Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Heart patient Grant Wilson and his wife, Emily, sign a quilt celebrating the Utah Artificial Heart Program at IMC on Saturday.

MURRAY — A program that's been saving lives through medical innovation and the technological marvel of mechanical hearts, celebrated 15 years of success Saturday at the new Intermountain Medical Center facility.

Founded by three doctors at LDS Hospital in 1993, the Utah Artificial Heart Program has grown into a team of 40 specialists involved directly with patient care who have implanted almost 400 devices and been on the cutting-edge of a medical process one of the founding doctors describes as among the most challenging in the medical world.

"This is the most complicated therapy in medicine today," said Dr. Brad Rasmusson, a critical care specialist who, along with Dr. James Long and Dr. Cris Cowley, founded the program in 1993.

Rasmusson was on hand Saturday and is still very much involved with the program, as is Cowley. Long has gone on to develop his own heart-assist device and is working with an Oklahoma medical school. Rasmusson said much has changed from the days of the program's inception, but the satisfaction remains the same.

"People can come back from a devastating problem, something that is life-changing for them and their family," Rasmusson said. "It's incredibly rewarding to see them work so hard to get back to their families and the good life they had before."

One man well on his way back to that good life is David Irvine, a 58-year-old Bountiful man who suffered a massive heart attack in January of 2007. Irvine had two heart assist devices implanted by a team from the program after his medical catastrophe. One of the devices was removed a short time later, but the other one — a left ventricular assist pump — kept him alive until a heart-transplant procedure could be performed. Irvine said timing may have saved his life.

"The only way I could have made it through was with an LVAD," Irvine said. "It's a remarkable device ... if this had happened six or seven years ago, I'd be dead."

Irvine said the technological miracle provided by the artificial heart program team led to another miracle that occurred at a much more human level — a transplant donor.

"I eventually qualified for a transplant thought the generosity of a donor and his family," Irvine said.

The procedure was performed on a day significant to Irvine who, with his wife, Linda, have four children — Father's Day, 2007. Just over a year later, Irvine said he's doing well and feels his stamina is about "70 percent" returned and continues his recovery efforts.

Dr. Bruce Reid is the surgical director of the program and said of the 50 or so transplants they perform every year, about a third of the patients have been aided with the use of an assist device. Reid said the safety and efficacy of devices like the one that saved Irvine's life continue to evolve and the program remains very involved with conducting clinical trials of new technology.

More than 150 patients, family members and staff celebrated the program's anniversary Saturday at IMC's Doty Education Center.


E-mail: araymond@desnews.com