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December 2,1982 -1st Permanent Artificial Heart Implant

Primary University Logo
Used with Permission of the University of Utah

It never ceases to amaze me at the accomplishments that have come out of the University of Utah. I really never gave the school much thought, and not being from Utah did not really care.

Looking through the University’s history and the things that affect my everyday life it is pretty amazing.

Nolan Bushnell – Class of 1969 Founder of Atari
Alan Ashton – Ph.D. 1970 Founder of WordPerfect
Tony Hearn – faculty 1971-1981 developed the oldest algebrais mathematics package —REDUCE— still in active use
John Warnock – Ph.D. 1969 Founder of Adobe Systems
Ed Catmull – Ph.D. 1974 Co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios 

University of Utah Facts:

  • Top 100 Universities in: Mathematics, Computer Science, Life Sciences, and Medicine
  • #2 Physician Assistant Program
  • #10 Pharmacy School
  • #29 Best Medical Schools for Primary Care
  • #60 Top Public Schools among national universities

I am having difficulty finding Medical Advancements, I know there are many. If any of you dear readers are U of U alumnus –alumni is the plural word– l would love if you could share some information with me.

When 61 year old Seattle dentist Dr. Barney B. Clark met with the University of Utah doctors he was weeks from death.  Dr. Clark suffered from congestive heart failure. His heart was bad, he could not walk to the bathroom, and he was too sick for a heart transplant.

Dr. Clark was the ideal candidate for a permanent artificial heart. Dr. Clark knew that his chance of long term survival was non-existent. He told his doctors that he did not anticipate living more than a  few days with his new heart.

In the very early hours of December 2, 1983 Dr. Barney Clark became the first recipient of a permanent artificial heart. As a cold blizzard roared outside Dr. Clark lay on an operating table having his ravaged heart removed.

When cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. William DeVries removed the heart from Dr. Clark it tore like tissue paper from years of steroid treatments. He replaced the heart with an artificial heart the Jarvik-7 named for Dr. Robert Jarvik a former University of Utah doctor and inventor.

Image Source: Texas Heart Institute

The Jarvik-7 is an aluminium and polyurethane device that is connected to a 400 pound (181 kilo) air compressor that would accompany Dr. Clark for the rest of his life. The Jarvik-7 was designed to function like the natural heart does.

The Jarvik 7 had two pumps, much like the heart’s ventricles. Each sphere-shaped polyurethane “ventricle” had a disk-shaped mechanism that pushed the blood from the inlet valve to the outlet valve. The ventricles were pneumatically (air) powered. Air was pulsed through the ventricular air chambers at rates of 40 to 120 beats per minute. The artificial heart was attached to the heart’s natural atria by cuffs made of Dacron felt. The drivelines out of the ventricular air chambers were made of reinforced polyurethane tubing. The lines were covered where they exit the skin with velour-covered Silastic to ensure stability and encourage tissue growth even with movement by the patient.

The air-driven, external power system powered the pump through drivelines that entered the heart through the patient’s left side. The large console on wheels was as large and as heavy (but not quite as tall) as a standard household refrigerator, and was normally connected to sources of  compressed air, vacuum, and electricity. The system was backed up by a rechargeable battery in case of power failure and included on-board compressed air tanks (modified scuba type) for use during patient transport. Controls in the console allowed doctors to control pump rate, pumping pressure, and other essential functions.

Texas Heart Institute

During the seven-hour long operation reporters from around the world –350 to be precise– camped out in the hospital cafeteria waiting to here the result. The world waited for Dr. Barney Clark. He was going where no man had gone before. He literally put his heart into it.

The operation was a success! Dr. Clark had a new “heart” that would keep him alive. When Dr. Clark awoke from his surgery he told his wife; “Even though I have no heart, I still love you!”

Dr. Barney Clark and Dr. William DeVries
Image Source: Wired Magazine

Dr. Clark lived for 112 more days. These 112 days saw many different emotions. Dr. Clark was alive and miserable. He was plagued with infections, he had clotting which caused several strokes, and at times was suicidal and asked to be allowed to die.

There were good times too. Dr. Clark, his wife, and children celebrated the couples 39th wedding anniversary.

Dr. Clark was a hero. He knew going in that he might not come out the other side. In fact, the Utah Institutional Review Board considered Dr. Clark surviving the surgery as successful. Dr. DeVries considered success would have been giving Dr. Clark a better quality of life, getting him up and moving, and a little longer with his family.

He changed his mind on Thanksgiving. He was so sick that day that his son had to carry him to the head of the dinner table. Going to bed that night, he told his wife, he was going to go through with it. He explained to her, “I’ve been kept alive for the last four years through all kinds of medicine and therapies that other people have given their lives to inform me; now, it is my time to pay them back.” That comment has really stayed with me, especially as I went on to help other patients whose reasons for the operation were different. Barney’s reason was to contribute, to move science forward and to help others in the future.

There are a few things that I cannot express myself, so please forgive me for the next couple of paragraphs.

What was the last day like? On that 112th day— the entire period in which I had  only left the hospital once—I had just checked on Barney and he was up reading the newspaper. An hour later, he was unconscious and his blood pressure had plummeted down to zero. At that time, declaring death was based on one’s heart stopping not on whether one was brain dead. His wife was with him, when we agreed to turn off the heart-pump machine. It was over. The easiest thing for Barney to do would have been to go home and die, but he chose not to; he was a pioneer who truly did give his life for something important.

What did you learn from the experience? We did a lot of trouble shooting over those 112 days. We’d never had a person on this device before, so we faced a lot of new issues ranging from dealing with anti-coagulation measures to how best to deter infection. We worried about whether he should be on antibiotics the whole time. The hospital really rallied around us and we had these huge, collaborative meetings with people representing specialties from throughout the U, all helping us decide how best to care for Barney. In the end, we probably treated him with too many antibiotics and he got an infection—Pseudomembranous Colitis.

– Interview with Dr. DeVries –

Dr. Barney Clark, the “tough old guy” from Seattle, Washington a hero and pioneer passed away on March 23, 1983. He was 62.

There are a lot of critics even 32 years later that feel that Dr. Clark was a martyr and not a hero. These people felt like he was a guinea pig and was not well informed.

I feel that Dr. Barney Clark was a hero!

Because of the things learned in his 112 days many others lives have been saved. The Jarvik-7 was used in several more patients as a permanent heart replacement. Bill Schroeder, lived 620 days, the longest survivor.

We do not have an artificial heart that can be used as a permanent replacement. The Total Artificial Heart is the direct descendant of the Jarvik-7 and is used today to replace a patient’s heart while a donor can be found.

Barney Clark Memorial – Provo, Utah
Image Source: Biblios

In Memory of
and his tremendous courage and pioneering spirit

Dr. Barney Clark dedicated his life to the practice and advancement of medicine from his entry into medical school until his death.

Dr. Clark was a vital force in pioneering the use of a permanent artifical heart. He was the first recipient of this artifical heart which was surgically implanted on Dec. 2, 1982. He used this heart to sustain his life from Dec. 2, until his death on March 23, 1983. His sacrifice is immeasurable in the advancement of medicine, for this, Dr. Clark takes his place among American heros.

Dr. Clark was one of Provo’s finest sons and he will always be remembered for his dedication and courage. He was born in Provo on Jan. 21, 1921. He attended Maeser Elemetary School and Dixon Jr. High. He graduated from Provo High School in 1939, Dr. Clark received a bachelors degree from B.Y.U. in zoology, graduating with honors in 1948.

This memorial to Dr. Barney Clark is a tribute to his medical generosity, courage and life.

Just once more, from me. Thank you Dr. Clark!



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