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High-tech heart

National | Abiomed plans to run more patient tests of AbioCor, its artificial heart implant

Issue: "State of the Union 2003," Jan. 25, 2003

A Massachusetts company is looking for patients to test the world's first self-contained artificial heart. The device known as the AbioCor implant has no wires or tubes sticking through the skin, reducing the risk of infection. Its inventors hope it can give new life to people who are unable to receive normal heart transplants.

The new implant is only available to a tiny number of gravely ill patients in a clinical trial. To qualify, a patient must have a 70 percent chance of dying within 30 days and be too sick to receive a human transplant.

Tom Christerson received the AbioCor implant in September 2001. The retired tire salesman from Kentucky improved to the point that he is able to eat out with his wife about once a week.

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Other cases were less extraordinary. Mr. Christerson is the only survivor of the original seven participants who received implants in 2001 and 2002. Four lived more than 60 days, which is considered good given their conditions. One controversial case involves James Quinn, who lived 10 months after surgery. But his widow claims he died a painful death, and she filed a lawsuit saying he wasn't adequately informed of the ordeal ahead.

Another concern is that three AbioCor patients died of strokes. Abiomed suspended implants for several months and modified the design to reduce risks.

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