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August Miller, Deseret Morning News
Nurse Sandi Stoker, left, hugs Al Marsden of Idaho Monday as he talks about using an artificial heart 12 years ago.

Intermountain Healthcare said Monday that innovations in total artificial-heart technology are reviving its artificial-heart program after a 12-year hiatus.

The artificial heart itself has changed little since Intermountain doctors implanted one in Idaho resident Al Marsden in 1995. What has changed is the support device that drives the heart.

Marsden, Utah's second-ever total artificial-heart patient following Barney Clark, spent five months in LDS Hospital with his artificial heart, tethered to a 400-pound, refrigerator-sized support device until a donor heart became available, enabling a permanent transplant.

Today, the CardioWest artificial heart is driven by a battery-operated pump housed in a wheeled cart that resembles a piece of airline carry-on luggage. "We will now be able to send patients home," said Dr. James Long, director of the artificial-heart program.

The artificial-heart program at LDS Hospital went on to implant the CardioWest temporary artificial heart in seven patients after Marsden, but suspended its program in 1999 because the cost and risks of keeping a patient confined to a hospital for months on end made the program impractical, Long said.

"We are grateful to see a new, smaller console being developed for the temporary total artificial heart and are excited to bring this technology back to Utah," Long said.

Marsden was on hand as Intermountain made its announcement Monday. "Being at home makes the patient recover quicker," he said. Being with family, having friends over — "the whole idea of being able to conduct your life" makes a huge difference as a patient waits for a permanent heart transplant, Marsden said.

"This device allowed me to survive to the point where I could have a transplant," Marsden said. "I've had a transplant now for 12 years and I have zero, zero side effects. I have no restrictions on my life."

Doctors don't expect the CardioWest heart or a device like it to be a permanent replacement for a transplanted human heart. Heart transplant surgeon Dr. Stephen Clayson said he does expect doctors will use the total artificial heart in three to five patients each year in cases where the patient needs a temporary solution while awaiting a heart transplant.

Intermountain Healthcare's new Intermountain Medical Center staff will be trained in January to work with the CardioWest heart. Intermountain does not know how soon after that the first patient to receive the artificial heart under the new program will be identified.

Intermountain said that while the heart is FDA approved, the new portable console does not yet have FDA approval, and its use is part of a clinical trial. Intermountain Medical Center will become one of "a handful" of medical centers in the nation to clinically evaluate the new portable console and will be the 12th center in the nation to implant the device.

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