Monday, July 09, 2001

Edge of the Wedge


The first "replacement heart" (Abiomed's term) that doesn't require tubes or wires to exit the patient. Can be recharged from a standard wall socket via paddles that transmit the electricity through the skin. Battery packs allowing eight or more hours of untethered activity can be worn in a belt or harness.

The Kentucky hospital that implanted the device has been getting swamped with calls requesting the procedure, now that the patient who underwent the transplant is reported to be doing well and even writing letters to family. This has mainly to do with the harsh shortfall of available donor hearts compared to the number of patients (I think I read 2,000 organs for 200,000 people awaiting transplants... I'll try and check.).

Interestingly enough, in college and more recently I read a hell of a lot of fiction that hinged on humankind leaping at the chance to replace their God-given parts with man-made ones. I slowly came to the position that Joe Sixpack and Jane Boxwine (that ill-educated and very emotionally malleable majority) were appalled at the idea, much as they cringe in horror at genetically-modified food and nuclear power, and firmly believe in their hearts that recycling saves energy over production of new goods. I have to admit, going in for a yearly tune-up as well as check-up doesn't appeal to me either.

And yet the machine-enhanced human persisted as a mainstream archetype in Japan despite largely dying out here.

And now the advent of the AbioCor and its coming progeny, and (likely) thousands of calls from distraught people who know their birth hearts are failing them, and flutter desperately about the flame of the Kentucky clinical trial.

How many people over the age of 85 still have both the hips they were issued at birth? How many pro football players retire without any steel pins inserted? Hell, how many of us don't have portions of our teeth replaced with metal or ceramic?

Is our only road to longevity through spare parts?


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