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Heart patient doing 'remarkably well'

Dr. Robert Dowling
Dr. Robert Dowling gives an update on the artificial heart recipient's condition  

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (CNN) -- A man who received a totally contained artificial heart is doing "remarkably well," one month after the revolutionary surgery, one of his doctors said Wednesday.

Speaking at Jewish Hospital at the University of Louisville, Dr. Robert Dowling said the patient, whose name has not been released, has been off a ventilator for a week, although he uses it at times.

"He is very excited to be doing so well," Dowling said.

His message to well-wishers? "Life is wonderful."

"The device itself has continued to work flawlessly," added Dowling, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Louisville.

The patient, in his middle to late 50s, was expected to die within 30 days without the surgery. He was too ill to receive a heart transplant.

"He's recovering splendidly from being very ill," Dowling said, adding that the man has never suffered an infection since the July 2 surgery.

The AbioCor implantable replacement heart
The AbioCor implantable replacement heart  

The man was gravely ill when he came into the hospital, making him eligible for the experimental surgery. He had been turned down by a heart transplant center and was suffering from renal failure and diabetes.

The new heart is revolutionary in that former artificial hearts had to be powered by external controllers, often weighing as much as 300 pounds.

The new heart, developed by AbioMed of Danvers, Massachusetts, was sewn inside the patient's body along with a battery pack and controller, and has no tubes or wires extending outside his chest.

The implanted battery pack is for short-term use. Doctors said the heart normally is powered by a unit that is "plugged into the wall" and transmits an electrical current through the skin.

The patient, Dowling said, has regained much of his strength, but still remains relatively weak. He said the man needs to gain 30 pounds of muscle mass.

Still, the patient teases his nurses, fusses about which CDs he wants to listen to, walks around and "talks a lot." He participated in a party Tuesday celebrating his progress.

"He's breathing on his own, he's able to now ambulate without assistance," Dowling said. "He's hardly ever in his room any more, except at night when he's sleeping. He's up and on the go."

• The Implantable Artificial Heart Project
• Jewish Hospital HealthCare Services

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