For the first time in Israel, an artificial heart has been permanently implanted into the chest of a cardiac patient; until now, mechanical hearts of plastic and metal had been used here to boost pumping action of faulty hearts.

The operation was reported on Sunday by the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva. The recipient is a 63-year-old man who suffered from severe cardiac insufficiency and developed organ failure.

He was transferred in very serious condition from another hospital.

Cardiologists decided initially to implant an ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) system to stabilize him. But after five days, doctors diagnosed irreversible heart damage and said the only solution was an artificial heart, as they believed that he would not survive a human heart transplant. The artificial device is meant as a “bridge” to strengthen him for the time he can undergo a human-heart transplant and an organ is found.

Mechanical heart transplant expert Dr. Jack Copeland, of the University of California at San Diego, flew in from the US to assist the Rabin heart transplant surgeons, who were headed by Dr. Benny Medallion, head of the heart-lung transplant unit.

They disconnected the ECMO machine, removed the patient’s failing heart and implanted the artificial heart while he was connected to a heart-lung machine.

The artificial device, made by the Syncardia company, is called a “total artificial heart.” It is able to pump nine liters per minute of blood through the body, compared to five liters in previous devices that were used to support a heart rather than replace it. The new device has fewer tubes, which reduces the risk of clots that could clog the device.

Until recently, said Medallion, the device was used only as a “bridge,” but it was approved as a permanent pumping device to replace a failing heart, and more than 1,000 such operations have been performed abroad.

Dr. Eyal Porat, head of the cardiothoracic branch at Beilinson, said the staff had little time to prepare for the unusual surgery and received much help from Israeli and foreign institutions.

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