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Heart transplant. Patients, doctors, donors. Special report


In music, art, cinematography, literature and religion it can cry, triumph and be restless. But all this has nothing to do with the real human heart, which is defined by Wikipedia as “a muscle organ, enabling blood flow”. The engine – which sometimes malfunctions.


Andrey Fedorov, reporter: “The whole procedure takes half an hour. Half of that – in motion. Recently it was recommended to people over the age of 40. But according to statistics, the cardio-vascular diseases got ten years “younger”.

The treadmill tests helps to discover a whole range of diseases of the main human organ, including asphyxia and arrhythmia. I am 35 – and it turns out I’ve long been in the risk zone.

Elena Khikhelova, cardiologist: “A man enters the risk zone as soon as he is born. They have inherited pathologies, unfortunately, which surface at an early age. And it’s impossible to predict when they would”.

And heart diseases hold the first spot in the mortality rating. According to the World Health Organization, around 17 million people die annually of ischemic disease.

Andrey Fedorov, reporter: “And this is the data of Russia’s Statistics Service for last year. The biggest killer is cardio-vascular diseases. And now compare it to other mortality causes. We’ll keep this diagram for a few seconds”.

And this applies to just about every city in Russia. St. Petersburg is no exception. Despite the city boasting high-level specialists. Those who transplant hearts and – from recent times – can even inject artificial ones.

If it’s a left ventricular myocardium, then the engine goes here, while the needle hub goes into aorta. If it’s the right ventricular myocardium – then it’s put into the auricle and the blood goes into lung arteries.

Head of research lab at Almazov Center Petr Fedotov shows us how this works. Half of a usual ball-pen has been chosen as an example for a reason. The devices implanted into patients these days are just about the same size.

The first artificial human heart was developed in the USA. A state program to develop such was launched somewhere in 1961. Medics worked together with space conquerors from NASA. Because they knew how to create powerful pumps.

Since then, around 50 artificial hearts of different sizes have been created across the world. Some of those were designed by Michael Debakey, who performed surgeries on Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, as well as leaders of Iran and Turkey. He also visited the Soviet Union and provided consultations to doctors operating on Boris Yeltsin.

Modern technologies have already saved thousands of lives. Meet the most pumped “zombie” Andrew Jones. Several years ago this fitness trainer was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. The 27-year-old athlete could not even sit straight – he needed an urgent transplant. But there was no immediate donor available. So the man had artificial heart implanted – powered by batteries which he carried in a backpack.

Basketball player Stan Larkin also had to charge his heart – like a cellphone. He had spent 18 months with this device, while waiting for a donor.

The system of artificial blood circulation saved the life of St. Petersburg resident Alisa Chupina. She spent 9 months using the device – and got her new heart, although a male one. She has been living it for 5,5 years.

Alisa Chupina, patient at Almazov Center: “It’s something you will never forget. I always remember. The fact that I live with a male heart does not affect me in any way. I am a genuine woman. But I know that there was a man somewhere who gave me his life”.

But, according to doctors, Alisa was lucky. Quite often, patients with severe conditions do not last until a donor arrives. And not everyone can get a mechanical heart, which you can live with for only two years. The main problems after implantation – rejection, bleedings and thrombosis.

Yulia Sazonova, cardiologist: “For us it’s a difficult psychological moment – because we treat people who we then lose. Now we have 44 people on the waiting list, but not everyone will live to get the donor heart. Last year we had 16 transplantations – so you can see for yourself”.

Andrey Fedorov, reporter: “Today you can find donor organs online. More specifically – on the Darknet. Most of the ads here are in English, but you can find Russian ones too. Height, weight, age of donor, health condition and contact information. Prices vary. A kidney goes for 200 thousand dollars, liver – 140 thousand dollars. Heart is not the most expensive – 120 thousand – but the operation to transplant it costs 360 thousand. It is more than 20 million rubles”.

And you won’t be able to conduct such illegal operation in Russia – it is banned by law. And specialists say you should not trust the biggest donor markets – India, China and Iran. That’s why artificial hearts is the main hope.

Something unseen before. These shots show the new development of scientists from Novosibirsk. An artificial heart with disc pump and liquid friction. For now, it looks awkward – but it is being animal-tested and fine-tuned. But, quite possibly, will save some people’s lives soon. Scientists are working on new coating. Instead of titanium, the heart will be made of diamonds.

Alexander Chernyavsky, head of aorta and coronary arteries surgical center: “This week we begin the tests of diamond-like coating for thrombosis-proneness. We are working on perfecting the shape of the device and materials. I think in 2-3 years we will be able to achieve the result – that is the artificial heart which would be able to replace a live human heart for months and maybe even years”.

Scientists believe that artificial hearts will be able to last as a temporary solution while waiting for a transplant up to half a century. Maybe then it will become possible to replace the muscle with a machine for good. But for now, it’s best to take care after your heart.

Andrey Fedorov, reporter: “A few interesting facts. Every day, our heart produces as much energy as a moving truck would produce in 40 kilometers drive. People singing in a choir have a unison heartbeat. To avoid heart diseases, you have to work out or, at least, walk a lot. By the way – I am far off desired 10 thousand steps a day. Watch the pulse – yours and that of the city”.