Michael Mosley: “The heart possesses a mystique, a romance that sets it a part from any other organs. This difference helped make heart surgery an extremely dangerous procedure. Not just for the patient but also for any surgeon prepared to operate on it.”
Doctors intending to carry out a heart transplant faced an enormous amount of opposition based, largely, on superstition and fear. On 3rd December 1967, however, after 9 hours of surgery Christiaan Barnard became the first doctor to successfully complete a heart transplant. This success, led in turn to another problem – insufficient supply of donated hearts to meet the supply of patients awaiting operations (see also The Making of Modern Medicine).
In the programme, Michael Mosely travels to Paris to meet a patient who is being kept alivemwith the aid of a mechanical heart. This is a temporary stop-gap whilst he awaits the availability of a real heart. This is far from an ideal situation; the patient is connected to a pull-along machine which keeps the mechanical heart pumping the blood around his body. The programme continues by examining other viable alternative hearts for patients. It explains how surgeons have increasingly looked to animals, such as pigs, to help solve the heart donor shortfall (see also ‘Xenotransplantation – Pig-Heart Boy’). The following reports may also be useful: April 4th 1969, TIME – Natural v. Artifical Hearts, July 3rd 2001 TIME – Reviving Artifical Hearts and January 2003 Nature Medicine – The total artificial heart.
The section mentioned above (00:42:45 – 00:52:00) would be useful as a discussion starter for students examining the issues surrounding organ/heart transplantation and or donation (Also see ‘To ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’? – Organ Donation in the UK’). Below are a series of questions to complement this section:
- Should a human be able to donate their heart to another human?
- Should all humans consent to donating their heart or other organs when they die?
- Should doctors put a mechanical artificial heart into a human? What advantages and disadvantages might this provide for the patient?
- Should doctors put an animal’s heart, for example from a pig, into a human? What advantages and disadvantages might this provide for the patient?
- What other alternatives are there to heart transplants? (Stem cells)
- How might doctors solve the heart donor shortage?
- Why might the heart be viewed differently from other organs?
Blood and Guts – A History of Surgery: Bleeding Hearts (60 mins) was first broadcast 27th August 2008 21:00pm and repeated; 28th August 2009: 00:30am, 22:00pm and 29th August 2008 03:00am (TRILT Identifier: 00ABE0FA).(DJW)