It was in the late 1970’s, in an airliner, on the way back from a business trip that I noticed a young man sitting next to me sketching on a grid pad. I glanced at the item the young man was drawing which looked like a small trubine wheel.
“Are you an engineer?” I asked. Turbine wheels were common in my industry. The company I worked for cast turbine wheels for everything, from automobile turbochargers to marine propellers, so it was with some surprise when I found out the man was designing a heart pump.
“I’m Richard Wampler, a surgeon and an engineer,” he replied and this is the next generation in heart pumps I’m designing. It’s revolutionery. This one is implantable.”
I introduced myself telling the young doctor I was also an engineer and worked with titanium, a metal that may be useful to him in the medical field. We talked about his design and the problems he would have to overcome with his new design. At the time he was most concerned that a continuous flow of blood through a high speed turbine wheel might shred red corpuscles and destroy the blood.
I gave the doctor my card and told him if he needed anything I could help him with he should contact me. I wished him success and we parted.
When I got his call a week or so later I had completely put the conversation about the revolutionary heart pump out of my mind. This time the young man wanted to know if I could make some titanium heart pump parts for him to test. Soon after I recieved wax patterns and was able to provide titanium prototype parts for an early version of an implantable heart pump.
Through the years I have caught several news casts about implantable heart pumps. The most notable news story was of a dentist in Seatle in 1982 named Barney Clark. He was the first person to have an artificial heart implanted and lived entirely on a mechanical device called the Jarvik-7 named for another pioneer in artificial heart pumps, Dr. Robert Jarvik. Barney Clark lived for 112 days with the mechanical heart.
A lot of things have changed since Barney Clark made history as the first human to live with an artificial heart. Today a much improved and minitureized version of an artifical heart is undergoing testing in a calf named Meeko. It may prove to be the first truly implantable permanent replacement for the human heart. With over 2 million Americans needing heart transplants and only a few thousand replacements available each year, this could be the medical breakthrough of the century.
My next novel, to be released in May of this year, is titled HEARTLESS. It is a fictional acount of a young girl who is one of the first recipients of this truly remarkable device.