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Artificial heart saves lives

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by Krystal Paco

Guam - It's a weekend of health innovations as the Guam Medical Association holds an annual conference bringing together the specialists behind the latest and greatest technology and methods in healthcare today.

It's technology the tin man dreamed of, as cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Kathy Magliato said, "We literally can replace the human heart with a machine. Isn't that amazing?"

Once a handful of clunky metal, today's artificial heart now fits in the palm of your hand. According to Dr. Magliato, it's technology that's been around since the 1950s, and it's only getting better and saving more lives.  "The bottom line is if you look at the statistics about every year we have running 3,800 to 4,000 people on the list waiting for a heart transplant at any given point in time. And yet we don't get that many donors. We have about 2,000 usable donor hearts every year, so you figure 4,000 needed. We only have 2,000 hearts you think, what happens when the supply doesn't equal the demand."

The solution? While you wait for the perfect organ donor, you can survive on an artificial heart. "This technology we can actually implant into you or somebody waiting on the list and stabilize your heart until that time that you need your transplant. Then we can take that machine out we take out your heart and then we put in the donor heart, so we use this as what we call a bridge to transplant," she explained.

Although it's not a permanent solution just yet, the FDA has approved its use for destination therapy. "If you need some machine to stabilize your heart, but you're not a transplant candidate we can actually put this machine in you and let you live with this machine indefinitely until you die of something else," she said.

But what's the most frequently asked question? Dr. Magliato said, "It's the way we equate love with the human heart. If I take your heart out and replace it with one of these machines will you still be able to love? It's an interesting, spiritual and emotional question - the answer obviously is yes we hope that love comes from other places besides your heart."

As cool as it sounds however, the surgeon admits - you don't want to replace a perfectly good heart with its metal counterpart. "People at home should know that we only use these in people who are very, very ill to people who would not survive otherwise and the bottom line is as great and fun as these toys are you don't want one, and the way not to get them is to avoid getting heart disease," she said.

Instead, she hopes patients will put her out of business. After all, heart disease is 80% preventable. All you have to do, is modify your risk factors by eating right, exercising, and quitting smoking.

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