Got Heart?

July 16, 2010

Rheanna Sand

Whatever your views on former US Vice President Dick Cheney - oil baron, war criminal, elder statesman, or Dark Lord - he is now a living, breathing medical marvel. That's because Dick Cheney… is a man with no pulse.

How can this be, you ask? Has he been reanimated by dark magic? Has he been fitted with an oil-burning internal combustion engine as a replacement for his failing heart?

There is nothing dark or magical about it; after suffering increasing episodes of congestive heart failure, last week Mr. Cheney was given a Left Ventricle Assist Device - a battery operated, surgically implanted pump which uses a tiny whirring motor to keep blood flowing. Since a constantly whirring motor has no "thump-THUMP" rhythm, anyone fitted with these artificial pumps literally loses their pulse.

Insert your own "Cheney is heartless/never had a pulse/heart just got colder, if that's possible" joke here.

All humour aside, LVADs are a desperate choice between life and death. They are implanted in patients whose heart muscles, after repeated heart attacks, have deteriorated so much they can no longer provide the force necessary to keep the body well circulated. Fluid begins to build up and painful swelling and chest pains can occur. But LVADs are a usually a temporary fix until a new heart can be transplanted, and it's unclear whether Mr. Cheney will undergo a transplant, or whether this treatment is an end goal upon itself.


Science in Seconds Blog by Rheanna Sand


Regardless, for now, the controversial figure will now have to live with a power cord jutting out of his abdomen connected to a battery pack worn outside his body, serving a machine that has essentially replaced the strongest part of his beating heart.

And for a man who has had five heart attacks - the first at the tender age of 37 - that might not be such a bad trade off.



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