Med Center Implants State’s First Totally Artificial Heart

By: Nebraska Medical Center Email
By: Nebraska Medical Center Email

Greg Rathe has been here before. Waiting. This time it's much different than it was 17 years ago. Rathe, 42, said his first heart transplant in 1996 came about after a sudden onset of cardiomyopathy, the weakening of the heart muscles. Early this year, his symptoms returned.

"I felt weak and couldn't breathe," Rathe said. "When I got here to the med center, they said I'd need a new heart."

"His condition deteriorated very quickly," said Mike Moulton, MD, chief of cardiothoracic surgery and heart transplant surgeon at The Nebraska Medical Center.

Rathe lost consciousness the second week in March. His donated heart was failing.

"We knew if we didn't move forward with the Total Artificial Heart, Greg would not survive," said John Um, MD, surgical director of cardiac transplantation and mechanical circulatory support at The Nebraska Medical Center.

Drs. Moulton and Um implanted the Total Artificial Heart March 14.
"I woke up and it was all done," Rathe said.

During heart failure, the heart cannot pump enough blood to supply vital organs with the oxygen and nutrients they need. When one side of the heart is failing, a patient can be put on a left- or right-ventricular assist device. Greg Rathe's heart needed help on both sides.

"Greg had chronic rejection of his donated heart," Dr. Moulton explained. "That process affected both the left and right ventricles. Because his heart had deteriorated to such a degree, a Total Artificial Heart was the only option."

The Total Artificial Heart is not a permanent solution. It is a "bridge to transplant" meaning it can allow a patient to regain their strength until a suitable donor heart is found. It provides high volume blood flow of up to 9.5 liters per minute through each ventricle, which helps speed the recovery of the patient's organs, making them a better candidate for heart transplant. According to SynCardia, which makes the device, patients have survived nearly four years before receiving a successful transplant. Doctors expect Rathe to have his artificial heart for one to six months.

"The Total Artificial Heart is the most advanced support available," said Ioana Dumitru, MD, medical director of heart failure and cardiac transplantation at The Nebraska Medical Center. "It can now be used to treat patients from our region who would have a very difficult time traveling long distances to receive this therapy."

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