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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

Keeping a Finger on the Pulse
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

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On December 13, 2001, Abiomed, a medical technology company, posted a press release on their Web site announcing the death of a second AbioCor artificial heart recipient. This announcement came just thirteen days after the announcement that the first patient enrolled in the AbioCor clinical trial had died. It is with sincere sadness that we convey our sympathy to those families that are mourning the loss of these two men. In light of these heart-rending events, it is important for us to contemplate the bigger picture. Can man make a replacement heart that works, and if not, why not? The quest to design and manufacture an artificial heart started during World War II. During this period, medics often were called upon to remove shell fragments from soldiers, and a value suddenly was placed on a heart replacement.

During the 1950s and 1960s, key developments such as the heart/lung machine, internal pacemakers, and replacement valves were made. However, a polyvinyl chloride device made by Drs. Willem Kolff and Tetsuzo Akutsu sustained the life of a dog for only 90 minutes—not exactly a success by any measure. In 1965, Dr. Kolff and his team developed a silicone rubber heart to be used in a calf. The first artificial heart to be implanted into a human was designed by Dr. Domingo Liotta, and was used as a bridge for a heart-transplant recipient. The patient survived for almost three days with the artificial heart, and 36 hours more with a transplanted heart.

Dr. William DeVries implanted the first Jarvik-7, a device developed by Drs. William Kolff, Donald Olsen, and Robert Jarvik. Clinical evaluations of the Jarvik-7 began in 1982, when this artificial heart was placed in dentist Barney Clark at the University of Utah. Five implants were performed through 1985. The longest survivor was William Schroeder, who was supported by the Jarvik-7 for 620 days. By the late 1980s, surgeons at 16 centers, including the Texas Heart Institute, had implanted more than 70 Jarvik-7 devices in patients as a bridge to transplantation. While they were hemodynamically stable, patients implanted with the Jarvik-7 did suffer from many complications (hemorrhage, stroke, sepsis, etc.). Additionally, they were forced to live a restricted lifestyle with little autonomy apart from the external console.

So now the AbioCor has entered the picture. The AbioCor Implantable Replacement Heart is made of plastic and titanium and, weighing less than 2 pounds, is powered through the skin by an external battery pack. On October 12, 2000, the Abiomed Company that produces the AbioCor artificial heart announced that it had received a $1.8 million federal contract. That same year, the company’s employee base was expanded to more than 200, and it completed a $96 million public offering on the stock market.

With the millions of dollars used to produce this new heart, and the countless hours of research and development that was required, one would expect that this artificial heart was nothing less than a state-of-the-art wonder! A lab full of highly specialized technicians and physicians would seem to ensure success. However, Robert Tools, the first patient to receive an AbioCor heart, lived only 151 days. The individual that received the fourth implant, who according to his (and his family’s) wishes, never has been identified to the public, survived only 56 days. How is that? Haven’t evolutionists reminded us time and time again that humans evolved over time from some amoeba-like creature? Isn’t the human heart just another product of evolution? It seems as though creating something that merely evolved over time would not be all that complex (after all, we can put water fountains in skyscrapers). And yet millions of dollars, hundreds of highly educated researchers, and countless hours of work can extend life only a hundred days or so. Could it be that we have not given God enough credit for His ability to design and create the amazing human body? Manmade artificial hearts may hold a small bit of promise, but for now I’ll cling to that which God made in the beginning (Psalm 139:14).



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