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William DeVries : biography

December 19, 1843 -

William Castle DeVries (born December 19, 1943) is an American cardiothoracic surgeon, mainly known for the first transplant of a TAH (total artificial heart) using the Jarvik-7 model.

The artificial heart

In 1979 Dr. DeVries went back to the University of Utah to become the chairman of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery; there, he used to perform two to five open-heart operations a week. At that time the University was known for being one of the country's few pioneering centers for advanced surgery on vital organs and their transplanting and implanting into animals and humans. In Salt Lake City he worked with doctor Robert Jarvik and doctor Kolff. By the time DeVries was back to Salt Lake City, the calves with artificial heart were able to live up to six, seven, even eight months. These results inspired him to take on with the work and so he started a series of long-term animal experiments. After two years of experiments, doctor DeVries and his colleagues tried to obtain the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) approval. At the beginning, nobody really paid much consideration to the work, but after a while it started to acquire new attention, things changed, and even the NIH started to be interested in the project. Therefore, DeVries started to look for a suitable patient for the first attempt. In 1982, the FDA gave the approval to experiment the device on a human, and so a panel of six members at the University of Utah Medical Center started searching for a patient. The group was composed of two cardiologists, a psychiatrist, a nurse, a social worker and DeVreis; the decision had to be unanimous.

The first patient

The first patient was a Seattle dental surgeon named Barney Clark, affected with an end-stage congestive heart failure. The seven-hour surgery was carried out in December 2, 1982, and it was successful. Doctor William DeVries, 38 years old at that time, was known to listen occasionally to rock music while performing surgery. In his first Jarvik-7 implant the operating room was hushed, except for the voice communications to the medical team and the quietly played strains of Joseph-Maurice Ravel's "Boléro". The patient lived but DeVries found much harder to manage the device on a patient, rather than on a healthy animal. This carried to some complications which led part of the researchers to ask DeVries to turn off the device. In fact they did not want to lose the NIH approval and consequently their funds. DeVries refused to shut down the device, this caught the attention of the media, and made DeVries achieve the cover of Time magazine (December 10, 1984). Eventually, they had to deal with the issue of money. To keep mister Clark alive, he decided to sell the rights of his story to a newspaper for $1 million . Mister Clark lived for 112 days after the surgery, as complications kept occurring and this led to multiorgan failure and eventually death. Unfortunately mister Clark never recovered well enough to leave the hospital. In this period DeVries and his team had to face a series of issues due to the pressure of the media and the public. He was constantly obsessed with critics and legal issues concerning about what he was doing whether it was right or wrong. With the success of the first patient, DeVreis wanted to go on with his trials, but there were not enough funds and medical insurance was never going to pay for such an experimental transplant. Consequently DeVries found himself on a project for fund rising, which, at the beginning did not succeed until Wendell Cherry, vice chairman of the Humana Inc. offered him to relocate in Louisville, Kentucky); in exchange Cherry offered to finance the next 100 implants.David K.C. Cooper."Open Heart: The Radical Surgeons who Revolutionized Medicine." 2010, New York, Kaplan Publishing.ISBN 978-1-60714-490-8; pag 389-393

The Jarvik-7

The Jarvik-7 was a mechanical device, made of polyurethane and aluminium, which was used to replace the two ventricles of a human heart. The pumping action came from air, compressed by an electrical unit located outside of the patient's body. The human-made organ had two separate ventricles grafted with Dracon sleeves to the native atria and great vessels. It was powered by a 400 pound (180 kg) air compressor, connected to the heart, through a tube coming out of the patient body. In order to give the patients the ability to move, it was also invented a portable power console which was the size of a briefcase. Since 1982, 350 patients have used the Jarvik-7 heart model, and its original design is still used for the modern Jarvik-7, although due to propriety passages the device name is now “SynCardia”. On October 2004, the Jarvik-7 model was the first medical device to receive a full-FDA approval.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine