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Medical history: Barney Clark's heart to be shown at Smithsonian

Published January 13, 2007 12:20 am

Robert Jarvik, who developed the device implanted by University of Utah scientists into the Seattle-area man in 1982, will loan it to the D.C. museum
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WASHINGTON - The pioneering artificial heart developed by Robert Jarvik will go on display at the Smithsonian Institution next month.

''As an item of historic interest, this is the only time the public has had a chance to look at it,'' Jarvik said of the heart first implanted by a University of Utah Health Sciences Center surgical team into the chest of Seattle-area dentist Barney Clark nearly a quarter century ago.

''Unfortunately, a lot of people who go see it would have been children at the time it was used,'' he commented in a telephone interview Thursday. ''A lot of years have gone by.''

Jarvik donated one of his newer artificial hearts to the National Museum of American History and is lending the museum the heart that kept Clark alive for 112 days.

Clark, 61, suffered from cardiomyopathy, a degenerative disease of the heart muscle. Near death, he received the air-driven, polyurethane pump on Dec. 2, 1982, becoming the first human to receive the Jarvik-7. His sojourn on the device was as difficult and painful as it was history-making: Clark endured numerous setbacks until multiple organ failure finally claimed his life.

Subsequent implantees suffered similar problems with the device as a permanent replacement for diseased hearts, and it eventually was relegated to a shorter-term bridge device to heart transplants.

Although the history museum is closed for renovations, Jarvik's hearts will be displayed during February at a special ''Treasures of American History'' exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian spokeswoman Melinda Machado said.

''Doctor Jarvik's innovations have helped shape the history of medicine,'' museum director Brent Glass said in a statement. ''This donation is a wonderful addition to our collections representing American ingenuity and innovations.''

Jarvik said Smithsonian historians had visited him in New York to film his collection of artificial hearts.

''We laid them out in a sort of evolutionary tree, we had the table covered with different prototypes showing how one idea led to the next,'' he said. Some were dead ends, and others led to better hearts.

He said the historians requested a donation, and he agreed to give them a Jarvik 2000 FlowMaker and to lend the museum the earlier model that had been used in Clark.

''That's never been publicly shown or exhibited,'' he said.

The American history museum has a collection of historical artificial organs and assist devices, including the Liotta-Cooley artificial heart, the first temporary artificial heart implanted in a human.

The Liotta-Cooley heart was developed by Domingo Liotta and was implanted by surgeon Denton Cooley on April 4, 1969. The recipient, Haskell Karp, lived for 64 hours with the artificial heart until a human heart was available for transplant.

The Jarvik-7 was the first permanent artificial heart implanted in a human, and news crews came from all over the world to cover the "Artificial Heart Man." Reporters competed to be first out with news of Clark speaking a few words to staff, or sitting up with assistance of caregivers.

Over the weeks, coverage settled down to a smaller corps of TV, newspaper and wire service reporters. As Clark's condition deteriorated, some of them curled up on the floors of a makeshift basement newsroom to catch naps during overnight vigil. Clark died March 23, 1983.

Clark's primary surgeon, William DeVries, would carry out four more implants as a permanent replacement heart. William Schroeder lived 620 days, the longest of any of the recipients. Many other patients received the device as a temporary measure.

In the United States, Jarvik's newer Jarvik 2000 model has been approved for trials to buy time for heart transplant patients. In Europe, it has been used as a permanent heart replacement.


* Tribune reporter BOB MIMS contributed to this report.






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