Deputy director of the MHH heart clinic Professor Martin Strüber says that when he began the clinical trial for the 375-gramme “Heartmate II” he could only hope for such a successful outcome for his patients.
“Five years ago we couldn't be certain that a life without a pulse would go well over the course of years and the other organs would adapt,” he says.
In that time, each 12-centimetre titanium heart has pumped some 15 million litres of blood through each man's body.
“I think they could pump a good ten years, but the tubes would be a problem, for example,” Strüber adds.
When Nino Wolfram received his implant, he was 21-years-old and a long donor list meant there was no alternative for replacing his weak heart. At the time doctors thought it would be a temporary measure until a donor appeared.
“I'm happy that I got an artificial heart, because otherwise I'd no longer be alive,” he says.
Still, the device is only a “plan B” solution, though the clinic says it is working to make it a first-choice treatment in the face of ever longer transplant waiting lists for real hearts. Some patients wait for up to five years to get new hearts – time that many don't have.
The MHH has now put artificial hearts into 100 patients, they say.
The ventricular assist device pumps turn up to 10,000 times per minute to churn blood through the body. The Heartmate II connects via cable to an electronic power system that patients wear in a bag outside their bodies.
Because it pumps continuously, patients generally have no pulse. But somehow Wolfram's body has developed one.
“The doctors are always in wonder of this,” he says.
While it took some time to adjust to his new heart, 26-year-old Wolfram says that it now barely affects his life, which includes frequent gym work-outs and bike riding.
While other patients express a wish to receive a real heart transplant, Wolfram says he isn't worried.
“I trust my heart,” he says.