Recipient of self-contained artificial heart goes home

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

CENTRAL CITY, Ky. -- The longest-surviving recipient of a self-contained artificial heart returned home Tuesday seven months after his operation, waving to well-wishers as he rode a wailing firetruck through town.

"It's good to be home," 71-year-old Tom Christerson said after the caravan of dozens of vehicles finally pulled up to his house.

He was given a plastic-and-titanium AbioCor heart at Jewish Hospital in Louisville on Sept. 13. Christerson, the second recipient of the device, was released from the hospital March 20 and had been living at a hotel one block away.

"I feel like I'm pretty back to normal and I can do as I please," Christerson said at the hotel.

After the news conference, the retired tire dealer and his wife drove to their home in Central City, a town of 6,000 people about 125 miles southwest of Louisville. Christerson sat in the passenger seat of the minivan, which was fitted with an electrical outlet so he could recharge the heart on the road.

When he got to Central City, Christerson was helped up the four steps onto the firetruck, the ride fulfilling a wish he had expressed weeks ago. People spilled out from businesses to greet him as the caravan crept along.

At the Christersons' brick, ranch-style house just outside of town, Mayor Hugh Sweatt read a proclamation declaring it Tom Christerson Day.

"Welcome home, buddy," the mayor said, hugging Christerson.

Ken Christerson said his father hopes to rejoin his coffee-drinking buddies, who meet each morning at a restaurant, and eventually spend time on his houseboat.

Christerson already had spent a weekend at home, and had made frequent outings in Louisville.

"I have quite a few friends" in Central City, Christerson said. "I miss them a lot. We've been known to play a hand or two of poker."

One of his surgeons, Dr. Robert Dowling, said Christerson is doing "very well medically and emotionally."

Christerson recalled his first encounter with the artificial heart, saying he saw one of the devices on the desk of one of his surgeons. Christerson said he pointed at it and told the doctor: "I'll do anything but that."

"Now I've got that," he said.

He will continue physical therapy in Central City and return to Louisville for checkups.

Seven people have been given the Abiocor heart. Christerson is one of two still living. The device is made by Abiomed Inc. of Danvers, Mass.

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