Recipient of artificial heart dies

Saturday, December 1, 2001

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Robert Tools, the first person to receive a fully self-contained artificial heart, died Friday of internal bleeding and organ failure after living with the device whirring in his chest for 151 days. He was 59.

The death was announced by Drs. Laman Gray Jr. and Robert Dowling, who implanted the softball-sized device at Jewish Hospital on July 2.

They said the death was not caused by problems with the AbioCor heart device. They blamed the severe abdominal bleeding on long-standing health problems.

The hospital said the bleeding started Thursday and Tools' organs began failing that night. He died Friday afternoon.

"Mr. Tools and his family members are heroes," Dowling said. "Their willingness to be the first to participate in the AbioCor clinical trial could potentially pave the way for a revolutionary treatment option for advanced heart disease."

Tools was suffering from congestive heart failure, diabetes and kidney disease when one of his physicians, Dr. Joseph Fredi, remembered the research going on in Louisville. Tools had been given little chance of surviving 30 days without the surgery.

The retired telephone company worker underwent seven hours of surgery, but didn't step before the public until August. After a standing ovation from hospital employees and others, Tools smiled and whispered that the hardest thing to get used to was the "whirring sound" that let him know he was alive.

Tools said he had a choice "to stay home and die or come here and take a chance. I decided to come here and take a chance."

Four other patients across the country have had the same surgery and are living with AbioCor hearts. A fifth patient underwent the surgery in Houston this week but did not survive the operation.

The plastic-and-titanium device is made by Abiomed Inc. of Danvers, Mass. Unlike earlier artificial hearts, like the Jarvik-7, it has no wires or tubes that stick out of the chest and connect to a compressor.

The AbioCor patients are part of a federally approved clinical trial by Abiomed, which hopes to have the device on the market within the next few years.

Doctors and officials at Abiomed had been pleased with Tools' steady progress over four months.

In early November, Tools was able to have collard greens and a cheesesteak during an outing with Louisville's mayor. He had recovered enough to make frequent day excursions outside the hospital, including a fishing trip, and doctors had said they hoped he could be home for Christmas.

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