An artificial heart pump the size of a golf ball could transform thousands of dying patients’ lives, the surgeon who implanted the first in the world has said.
Retired father-of-three Harry Chivers, 63, was the first person to have the Miniaturized Ventricular Assist Device (MVAD) fitted two weeks ago.
After suffering a heart attack in August, his health was failing and he was waiting for a transplant when the possibility of becoming a pioneer arose.
Mr Chivers, from Bangor, County Down, travelled to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, England, for the treatment by expert Professor Stephan Schueler.
Since then the married former general manager has made good progress, is feeling stronger and could be allowed home next week.
His consultant cardiac surgeon said the £80,000 device, smaller than predecessors and with sophisticated controls and settings that allow it to adapt to the patient’s lifestyle, sits on the tip of the heart and helps it to pump blood.
Professor Schueler said there were hundreds of thousands of people with advanced heart disease, and in the past treatment was limited to an “elite” few who could receive a transplant.
He said: “They have now the choice to get these revolutionary devices. It is the fourth generation and they are tiny.”
Weighing 78g and being 22cc big, the MVAD is about the size of a golf ball, around half as large as previous devices.
It is powered by a battery pack from a wire which passes out of the patient’s abdomen. The pack can be carried in a bag or around the waist.
Prof Schueler said: “Our patient is doing very well today. We will send him home next week. He is in the process of being taught how to use it, keep it clean and how to change the batteries.
“There are lots of safety features, it is like taking your driver’s licence.”
Mr Chivers said: “I feel great, it has really improved my breathing and the operation has gone really well.
“I was quite happy to volunteer here because I have 100% confidence in the fantastic hospital.
“I am getting a lot better, I’m eating a lot better, I’m getting around and working on my physio. There’s a long way to go but I’m going to do it.”
The Freeman’s Ventricular Assist Device Co-ordinator Neil Wrightson believed the new pump’s size made it a huge step forward.
Its availability came “in the nick of time” for Mr Chivers who was slumped in his chair and looked “appaling” when they first met in a Belfast hospital, Mr Wrightson said. “He is not a dying man anymore,” the co-ordinator said.
Patients would need to be poorly enough to require a heart transplant but well enough to recover from the treatment, with good support to help them through the process afterwards, Mr Wrightson said.
He said because of its small size it could be suitable for children with heart disease.
The device will now go through a lengthy trial process, with centres around the world fitting MVADs in dozens of patients.