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World first as surgeon fits mini pump to heart patient.

A Birmingham man has become the first in the world to be fitted with a miniature electronic heart pump.

The operation marks the culmination of decades of research and offers new hope to thousands of sufferers of Britain's biggest killer disease.

The heart patient, a former healthcare worker who is in his sixties, had the thumb-sized device implanted at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

Before the operation, the man who does not want to be identified, was unable to walk and was only expected to live for a few weeks.

He is now leading a full life.

A second dying patient was fitted with the heart pump, called a Jarvik 2000, in an operation at the Oxford hospital last week.

It is hoped that by the next decade, the device could become as common as heart pacemakers.

The life-saving pump is a miniature turbine inserted into the left ventricle, which is responsible for 80 per cent of the heart's pumping function.

It can pump more than two gallons of blood each minute and will last indefinitely, without the need for lubrication or maintenance.

Specialists hope it will save the lives of thousands of people who die each year from clogged arteries and are unable to receive a transplant because of the donor shortage.

The Health Secretary, Mr Alan Milburn, is believed to be enthusiastic about the potential of the pump.

The revolutionary surgery have been carried out in strict secrecy by Mr Steve Westaby, a leading heart surgeon.

It was feared that if the Birmingham patient died soon after the operation, which was carried out in June, there would be criticism that he had been used as a human guinea pig.

Five years ago, Mr Westaby implanted a less sophisticated mechanical heart pump in Mr Abel Goodman, aged 64, from London, the first British patient to receive the device.

Mr Goodman, who had been told he was too old for an NHS heart transplant, survived for five months.

Mr Westaby's team has also used artificial pumps to maintain the lives of several children awaiting heart transplants.

However, the Birmingham patient is the first in the world to receive a heart intended to provide a lasting solution and new lease of natural life.

The project is being conducted under the guidance of Mr Robert Jarvik, the New York based inventor of the device. The Oxford group is also collaborating with the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, which has cautiously experimented with putting the pumps temporarily into three patients to improve their general fitness ahead of heart transplants.

The Texas team flew to Oxford to participate in the operation.

Mr Tim Myers, their manager of clinical research, said: 'It was a great success.

'The patient was a very intelligent man who understood what he was embarking on.

'I had several conversations with him after the operation. He was doing very well indeed and has obviously continued to get better and better.

'We are optimistic that if things continue to go well in Oxford, these devices could become a permanent treatment option for many people.'

In Britain 300,000 people suffer permanent damage to their heart muscle from heart attacks each year.

At least 100,000 patients could be saved by heart transplants, but because of shortages, only about 270 receive them.

Heart failure, where the muscle weakens and gradually becomes useless, affects two per cent of the population and one in 10 people over the age of 65.
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Author:Hudson, Jenny
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 28, 2000
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