History of the Artificial Heart

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The first artificial heart for humans was invented and patented in the 1950s, but it wasn't until 1982 that a working artificial heart, the Jarvik-7, was successfully implanted in a human patient. 

Early Milestones

As with many medical innovations, the first artificial heart was implanted in an animal -- in this case, a dog. Soviet scientist Vladimir Demikhov, a pioneer in the field of organ transplantation, implanted an artificial heart into a dog in 1937. (It wasn't Demikhov's most famous work, however — today he is mostly remembered for performing head transplants on dogs.)

Interestingly, the first patented artificial heart was invented by American Paul Winchell, whose primary occupation was as a ventriloquist and comedian. Winchell also had some medical training and was assisted in his endeavor by Henry Heimlich, who is remembered for the emergency choking treatment that bears his name. His creation was never actually put into use.

The Liotta-Cooley artificial heart was implanted into a patient in 1969 as a stopgap measure; it was replaced with a donor's heart a few days later, but the patient died soon thereafter. 

The Jarvik 7 

The Jarvik-7 heart was developed by American scientist Robert Jarvik and his mentor, Willem Kolff. 

In 1982, Seattle dentist Dr. Barney Clark was the first person implanted with the Jarvik-7, the first artificial heart intended to last a lifetime. William DeVries, an American cardiothoracic surgeon, performed the surgery. The patient survived 112 days. "It has been hard, but the heart itself has pumped right along," Clark said in the months following his history-making surgery.

Subsequent iterations of the artificial heart have seen further success; the second patient to receive the Jarvik-7, for instance, lived for 620 days after implantation. "People want a normal life, and just being alive is not good enough," Jarvik has said. 

Despite these advances, less than two thousand artificial hearts have been implanted, and the procedure is generally used as a bridge until a donor heart can be secured. Today, the most common artificial heart is the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart, accounting for 96% of all artificial heart transplants. And it doesn't come cheap, with a price tag of around $125,000.

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Bellis, Mary. "History of the Artificial Heart." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/history-of-the-artificial-heart-1991661. Bellis, Mary. (2023, April 5). History of the Artificial Heart. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-artificial-heart-1991661 Bellis, Mary. "History of the Artificial Heart." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-artificial-heart-1991661 (accessed June 1, 2023).