A Heart Comes Back to Life: Artificial Heart Removed in Rare Operation

operation is the first of its kind in Israel and one of few isolated procedures worldwide.

The native heart of Haim Abuhatzeira, a 31-year-old resident of Nahariya who received an artificial heart about two years, has unexpectedly resumed beating. The implant was removed from his body in an operation performed two weeks ago at the Carmel Medical Center in Haifa - the first of its kind in Israel and one of few isolated procedures worldwide.

This is one of the rare instances of the recovery of a native heart after it has ceased to function. In 2010 Abuhatzeira was rushed to the hospital after complaining of heart palpitations. He underwent surgery and was put on the national waiting list for a heart transplant.

Eli Dadon

The medical team diagnosed that Abuhatzeira was suffering from an acute inflammation of the heart muscle called myocarditis, which is caused by a rare virus responsible for cardiac insufficiency - a failure to supply blood to the body - and to the breakdown of additional systems. The medical team tried unsuccessfully to rehabilitate Abuhatzeira's heart with medication. After the percentage of heart function declined to only 10 percent, it was decided to implant an L.V.A.D. (left ventricular assist device ) called HeartMate II, commonly known as an "artificial heart."

The artificial heart is implanted in the chest alongside the original heart, attached to two tubes: "One is inserted into the left chamber and from it the blood is drawn to a device that pushes the blood into the second tube, and from there to the aorta," explained Prof. Dan Aravot, Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Carmel Medical Center, who performed the rare operation on Abuhatzeira.

"In addition, the implant is attached to an external electric cable that provides the power for the artificial heart's motor, which works at a rate of about 9,000 revolutions per minute."

After the implantation, Abuhatzeira, a computer technician and the father of a boy, began to carry a small bag on his back containing the device. "It was a difficult period, a lot of pain and coping with problems that affected all aspects of my life," he says. "I would shower in a special way, and I constantly had to take care of bandaging the external tube."

Nearly two years passed before Abuhatzeira's heart suddenly resumed functioning, and eventually it was decided to remove the implant.

The rare and complicated operation took 10 hours, supervised by the head of the cardiac insufficiency unit, Dr. Ofer Amir. "At first we implanted the artificial heart as a bridge, and then when the heart resumed its functioning, we were faced with the question of what kind of removal to perform," said Prof. Aravot on Wednesday. "The option commonly preferred in the few operations performed worldwide was to performed a side incision, while leaving the tubes in the body. The disadvantage of leaving foreign bodies in the body is that they are liable to become filled with blood clots and to cause embolisms and infection. In the end we decided to remove everything, because of the heart's functioning and the fact that the patient is young." This is the first case in Israel in which surgery to remove the implant and the tubes was performed. A few months ago in Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva an operation was performed on a patient in a situation similar to that of Abuhatzeira, but because of the state of her health it was decided to remove only the artificial implant and to leave the tubes in her body.