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AFRO-NETS> Cape Town surgeon implants South Africa's first artificial heart

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 
this morning.

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

Christian Labadie

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