7/02/02 - History-Making Event

One year ago, on July 2nd, medical history was made. Doctors at Louisville's Jewish Hospital implanted the world's first totally implantable artificial heart into 59-year-old Robert Tools. He lived five months with the plastic and titanium heart.

In the past year, six other terminally ill patients have followed Tools, and while researchers say the medical experiment has been a success, ethical issues and questions continue to be raised.

71-year-old Tom Christerson made medical history in April, when he became the first artificial heart patient to actually go home. "I'm here and glad to be here and hope to live to 110," Christerson says. He's been living in Central City, Kentucky for more than two months, hanging out with friends, celebrating the birth of his first great grandchild. The heart's been implanted in 7 men so far, Christerson, who was just days away from death got his heart 9 months ago, then had to overcome a 107-degree fever and endure weeks of grueling therapy . Dr. Rob Dowling from the University of Louisville says, "It's really kind of mind boggling. I don't know exactly why. It took a lot of hard work and a lot of hard work on his part and our part, but we're just happy he has made it."

Some people are concerned because the last two artificial heart recipients died during surgery and three recipients had strokes, which the heart's maker says may have been due to a design flaw that's been fixed. The other living patient, James Quinn, looked good in January, but days later he developed pneumonia that doctors say was not related to the artificial heart. In late June, one day after celebrating his 52nd birthday, Quinn did not regret his struggle to recover over the past three months. Dr. Louis Samuels from Drexel University says, "We're taking out a life-sustaining organ and replacing it with a machine and praying it will work."

But the experiment has not been working for Quinn's wife, Irene. "It just hurts so bad, sometime I'm just crying out 'somebody help me.' This is something I just don't think I'll ever, ever get over," Irene says. George Annas from Boston University says, "I've always thought that these artificial heart experiments are essentially experiments on the family. When your require the supportive family, to be a candidate and the person who has to live with it the longest, actually turns out to be the spouse"

Quinn and the other men who took a chance on this experiment feel they've made an important contribution. The families who've supported and suffered with them hope this leads to answers for others suffering the devastation of heart disease.