A 37-year-old Czech fireman says he is "functioning like a healthy man", after having his heart removed and replaced by mechanical pumps four month ago. At his first public
appearance since the surgery, Jakub Halik described his life as only the second human to have undergone the procedure. The first died a month after surgery in Texas last year.
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC (AUGUST 29, 2012)(REUTERS) - Jakub Halik is confined for much of the day to a wheelchair, but says he's lucky to be alive at all.
Just four months ago, Halik became only the second human ever to have his heart removed and replaced by mechanical pumps. He had been suffering from an aggressive
form of cancer. A tumour was growing rapidly in is heart. The tumour had to be removed before it killed him but Halik could not undergo a standard heart transplant because the drugs he would require afterwards cannot be taken by cancer patients.
So, on April 3rd 2012, in an eight-hour operation led by Czech cardiologist Jan Pirk, a surgical team removed Halik's heart and replaced it with two pumps called Heartmate 2, manufactured by US company Thoratec Corp.
At the news conference 148 days later, Halik told reporters he had no other choice.
"It was hard for me but I didn't have any other chance at all. It was acknowledged that with the tumor I can survive for about one year and I decided to fight and do it this way."
Professor Pirk's team used two pumps, which look like a 20 cm (8-inch) piece of plumbing to the untrained eye. Inside, is a propeller that spins at 10,000 rotations per minute. replicating the pumping action of the heart.
Thoratec makes the pumps for people with damaged or diseased hearts as they await a suitable heart for transplant. The pumps are powered by batteries worn externally that connect to the device via a controller and flexible cable beneath the skin. Tghe are designe dto do thre work normally done by a healthy heart.
Jakub Haliks siutaion however was unique. With no heart at all, he required two pumps.
Each pump is designed to perform the separate tasks of the left and right sides of the heart. One of the devices pumps blood to the lungs for oxygenation while the other sends the oxygenated blood back into the ciculatory system. The one thing they cannot replicate, is the pulse.
"I don't even realize it, because the functions of the body are the same, only my heart is not beating and I have no pulse anymore," Halik said. "This is the only difference but otherwise I am functioning like a healthy man at present."
The first time the procedure was attempted, it extended the life of 55-year-old Texan Craig Lewis for more than one month before the disease that necessitated the procedure, travelled to his kidneys and liver and killed him.
Jakub Halik, a husband and father of one, is hoping that his pumps will keep him alive until a suitable donor heart becomes available.
"It was hard for me on both sides - psychically and more physically - this just from the beginning. Later more psychically because I was undertaking the search for more tumor cells (metastasis). At present I feel very good physically and psychically as well."
Halik must carry a battery that supplies the pumps with him everywhere he goes. But he says, at least he can go beyong a hospital bed.
"My usual day goes like breakfast, hygiene, than lunch and after that I have usually visit, because my family visits me every day. Than I am doing rehabilitation like walking - sometimes I go to walk outside, which is very pleasant." Halik said. "I am looking forward to going home, to meet my whole family, my dog, to be with them again. Then in summer I would like to make holidays at the sea."
Halik's suregeon, KJan Pirk, says he is delighted with his patient's progress.
"Mr. Halik has a very strong personality and I am satisfied with the result. We didn't know how it will go on and from the very beginning it was not easy, his health status was very serious and only thanks to the systematic hard work of the whole team of doctors and nurses Mr. Halik is now in this good condition. He is doing his best, he is training hard because after two months of laying on bed the muscles are getting weak and he has to make them stronger now," Pirk said.
Jakub Halik is one of 24 patients in the Czech Republic who are waiting for a new heart. At the Institute for Clinic and Experimental Medicine (IKEM) the average waiting time is
eight months. Halik has nearly four more months to go.