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Inova Fairfax Hospital

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3300 Gallows Rd. Falls Church, VA Directions →

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A 59-year-old man in Northern Virginia had run out of options. He suffered from biventricular advanced heart failure, which meant both sides of his heart could no longer pump enough blood to support his vital organs. Doctors said he didn't have enough time to wait for a heart transplant.

So in June, thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon Nelson Burton and his team at the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute at Inova Fairfax Hospital replaced the patient's entire heart--two ventricles and four valves--with an artificial heart made of polyurethane. It was the first time a patient in the Washington area had ever received a total artificial heart.

Made by a company called SynCardia Systems, the artificial heart is hooked up to a large console that pumps air to it through polyurethane tubes that exit the body. But the hope is the patient won't have to remain in the hospital hooked up to that device for long.

A portable driver for the total artificial heart is currently in the final stages of FDA approval. The backpack-size device will allow patients to leave the hospital and be active as they wait for a donor heart. Around the US, several patients who participated in a clinical trial for the portable driver are already living at home with their artificial hearts. When the portable driver passes FDA approval, Burton hopes to send his patient home.

"We're trying to fit the technology to the patient," he says, "rather than the patient to the technology."

Read all of the 'Saving Lives with Science' pieces about our 2013-2014 Top Hospitals.

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Posted at 4:00 PM/ET, 10/02/2014
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