Harvard Heart Letter

The promise of a total artificial heart

Advanced device buys time until a transplant can be performed.

Like other people with advanced heart failure, Jim Carelli, Jr., suffered from severe shortness of breath and fatigue. With a heart unable to pump a sufficient amount of blood to his organs, his kidneys began to fail, and he swelled with fluid. He needed a heart transplant, or he would die.

But donor hearts are hard to come by, and time was running out. That's when Mr. Carelli's doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital decided to take extraordinary measures. In February 2012, surgeons removed his heart and replaced it with SynCardia's temporary artificial heart (TAH), the only device that replaces both ventricles. Its portable driver allows the wearer to move about freely, without being tethered to a stationary pump. It requires the right and left ventricles (the pumping chambers) and all four valves be removed and replaced with mechanical chambers. The TAH beats 140 times a minute, restoring normal blood pressure and allowing organs to recover. By the time a heart is found, TAH wearers are healthier and better able to withstand surgery.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »