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A 71-year-old man with a a mechanical left-ventricular circulatory support device pumping in his chest is reportedly the first in the world to take a trans-Atlantic flight and spend a vacation abroad.
The Israeli, Gershon Gefen, underwent the implantation of the HeartMate 2 device at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva last year.
Only a handful of such implantations have been performed here so far. His pump was implanted by Dr. Eyal Porat, head of the cardiothoracic surgery department, and Dr. Binyamin Medallion of the heart-lung transplant unit. They were assisted by a German surgeon with special expertise in such implantation, who arrived for the procedure.
The recipient wanted to visit his daughter who lives in the US. He recovered well from his surgery and pleaded with insurance companies to allow him to fly. All turned him down. Ultimately, the Ayalon company agreed to give him health and flight insurance.
However, even though Gefen could get insurance, airlines refused to fly him. They claimed the electronic equipment he needed would upset the plane's communications system, that there was no suitable infrastructure, and that, by law, only a laptop computer could be brought into the passenger area.
Desperate, he turned to Medallion and Dr. Tuvia Ben-Gan, a Beilinson expert in cardiac insufficiency, who said there was no problem, as long as the device supporting the heart was connected to a power line throughout the flight.
Finally, El Al invited him for a dry run, to connect him to a jet's power line. The experiment passed without problems, and Gefen received authorization. A technician from the artificial heart implantation unit at Beth Israel Hospital in New York fitted a device that made it possible for him to recharge using 110 volts of electricity rather than Israel's 220 volts.
Gefen, who returned to Israel safely after a three-week visit, praised El Al for making the effort, and especially the company's electronics officer, Michael Rifkin. "Without his help, and that of Beilinson physicians, I would never have gotten off the ground," Gefen said.