Friday, March 23, 2012

Barney Clark – Medical Pioneer



University of Utah Medical Center
Barney Clark & Jarvik 7
Today marks the 29th anniversary of the death of Dr. Barney Clark, the first permanent artificial heart recipient. On December 2, 1982, Dr William DeVries implanted the Jarvik 7 mechanical heart into 61-year-old Barney Clark at the University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City. He survived 112 days after the implant, dying on March 23, 1983. 

Clark with medical staff
before the operation
Clark, a retired dentist from Seattle, suffered from sever congestive heart failure.  He knew he did not have long to live, so he volunteered to undergo a radical procedure as a way to draw attention to the need for further medical research in this area.  Clark told doctors he hoped that they might learn more during his treatment, so that more lives could be saved in the future. 



In 1976, Clark had contracted a viral infection.  His heart muscles became swollen, enlarging his heart and making it harder for blood to flow there.  By 1982, doctors had determined that Clark was too ill to be given a heart transplant.  The only option left open to him was the implantation of the artificial heart.


Dr. Robert Jarvik
with the Jarvik 7
Dr. Robert Jarvik designed the state-of the-art Jarvik 7.  The mechanical plastic and aluminum heart was the first of its type for permanent use in a human. The artificial heart mimicked a natural heart’s function with two air powered heart-shaped pumps that were implanted into the patient.  These pumps were connected to an external pneumatic compressor, about the size of a refrigerator, weighing over 400 pounds. The pump was extremely noisy and the size of the compressor made it impossible for the patient to move around. Barney Clark never left the hospital after the unprecedented operation. 


Front Page of the
New York Daily News
Barney Clark &
Dr William DeVries
Clark had told doctors before the surgery that he did not expect to survive more than a few days after the implant.  But he did.  Although doctors were elated by his progress, Clark was miserable. He drifted in and out of consciousness and suffered from a multitude of complications. He underwent four more surgeries, after which he battled repeated infections, experienced several episodes of sever bleeding, suffered a broken heart valve, and endured chronic clotting, which led to a series of strokes. Several times, Clark requested to be allowed to die.

Clark tethered to his machines
Through it all, the mechanical heart continued to pump, maintaining Clark’s normal blood flow and sustaining his life for 112 day. Doctors continued to express their concerns about the threat of infections and pulmonary problems that could arise since Clark was immobilized.  Then on the evening of March 23, 1983, medical officials announced that Clark had died of “circulatory collapse and secondary multi-organ system failure.”

Dr Robert Jarvik in 1982
Medical professionals were divided as to whether the research done at the time of Clark’s implant had been conclusive enough to warrant attempting to implant an artificial heart into a human.    Articles were published and the media reported that the Jarvik 7 heart was banned from use.  However, aHowever, a version of this artificial heart still functions today.  Known as the SynCardia Temporary CardioWest Total Artificial Heart, it has been implanted in more than 800 people as a temporary heart, helping patients’ bridge the time until a donor heart can be found.

William Schroeder
Medical research into the artificial heart did not die with Barney Clark.  On November 25, 1984, William Schroeder, of Jasper, Indiana became the second man to receive the Jarvik 7 artificial heart.  He lived for 620 days; the longest that anyone had survived with an artificial heart.



Peter Houghten

Jarvik 2000
Today, artificial hearts have been transplanted in people, even children, around the world. The artificial heart is the size of a C battery and is connected by a small cord to a battery pack that is worn around the body. The longest living artificial heart recipient, Peter Houghton of England, lived for seven years.  He died in 2007 of multi-organ failure.  The artificial heart had to be turned off.

Commemorative Stamp
At the time of Barney Clark’s death a hospital spokesman told reporters, ''He was an incredible man, one of the strongest men I have ever known…. He did a service to mankind and the knowledge that we will gain from him will serve us all.''



Barney Clark's Grave
(Courtesy E.J. Stephens)
Clark's Memorial in Utah
Barney Clark was laid to rest in Washington Memorial Park Cemetery in SeaTac, Washington.  In Provo, Utah, a memorial stands to Dr. Clark, a medical pioneer, and a man who helped make the dreadful wait for a donated heart a little easier to handle.


~ Joy