Cape Town surgeon implants South Africa's first artificial heart
March 18, 2001
Landmark heart implantation completed today
Willie Koen, head of the transplant unit and the 'Berlin Heart'
Surgeons at a Cape Town hospital implanted an artificial heart into
the chest of a man who was rushed into their unit after cardiac fail-
ure last night. The operation, the first of its kind ever to be car-
ried out in South Africa, was performed at the City Park Hospital by
a 10-member team led by Willie Koen, the transplant unit head. Koen
said the patient, a 60-year-old male was "looking fantastic" after
the operation, which started at 10pm yesterday and finished at 8am
He said the patient's old heart had been left in place within his
chest and the artificial heart stitched onto it. The man-made heart,
known as the "Berlin Heart" and developed in Germany over the past 25
years, is made from polyurethane and has two ventricles.
"I left the patient's old heart which was almost non-functioning in
place so I had something on to which I could stitch the artificial
heart," Koen said. "Leaving it in place also means there is no space
left in the chest cavity which could fill up with blood."
The Berlin Heart is a "totally artificial heart" and not an assist
pump. There were patients in Germany who were still alive two years
after receiving the artificial heart. However, in these cases, doc-
tors said they would eventually put in a transplant heart from a do-
Up until quite recently, the technique of implanting an artificial
heart had been experimental, doctors said. Koen said the device is
driven by an external pneumatic compressor, connected to the artifi-
cial heart by means of a tube.
"The patient will be on the main compressor initially but will later
move onto a device, about the size of a car battery, which is mobile
and can be pulled behind on a small cart," Koen said.
The City Park Hospital's Heart Transplant Unit is understood to be
the biggest unit of its kind in South Africa and the only one capable
of carrying out an artificial implant of this kind. - Sapa
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