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An artificial heart implanted in an Idaho man Wednesday morning is functioning well, keeping him alive at LDS Hospital until a human heart becomes available for transplantation.

The operation, which began at 10 p.m. Tuesday and concluded at 4 a.m. Wednesday, marked the first time an artificial heart has been used in a patient in Utah since Barney Clark got the world's first back in 1982.The patient's identity was withheld at his family's request. All that LDS Hospital spokesman Jess Gomez could say about him was that he is 56 years old, from Idaho and was dying at the time of the operation.

Under U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules, the plastic CardioWest C-70 heart can only be installed as a bridge to transplantation. However, at a press conference last month when physicians announced the return of the artificial heart to Utah, experts stressed that the device could keep patients alive indefinitely.

In fact, an artificial heart implanted in Paris kept a woman alive 695 days; she died two months after a human heart was transplanted.

Five other medical centers in the United States are authorized by the FDA to implant the heart, which was developed in Utah. Only two others have done so, however. Some minor changes were made to the heart originally called the Jarvik 7, but the C-70 is largely identical to it.

Thoracic surgeons from the Utah Transplantation Affiliated Hospitals (UTAH) Cardiac Transplant Program performed the latest operation. UTAH Cardiac is a cooperative regional program using medical experts and resources from LDS Hospital, University Hospital, Primary Children's Medical Center and the Veterans Administration Medical Center, all in Salt Lake City.

"The surgical procedure went as well as can be expected, according to the implant team," said Gomez. The team was led by thoracic surgeon Dr. James W. Long.

The patient suffered from ischemic cardiomyopathy, a malfunctioning of the heart's muscles and blood vessels. He has been on a heart transplant waiting list and was hospitalized after a regular checkup at University Hospital on March 21.

Originally, he was a candidate for the left-ventricular device, which helps failing heart muscles by augmenting the work of the left side. However, additional tests showed that the right side of his heart was also failing.

"At that time he became a candidate for the total artificial heart at LDS Hospital," Gomez said.

The patient was transported by ambulance to LDS Hospital on Tuesday night for the surgery. He was conscious until the time of surgery.

His wife was quoted as saying he was "full of faith, actively involved in what was happening and very optimistic about the implant of the total artificial heart."

During the operation, the patient's heart was removed and he was temporarily hooked to a machine that circulated his blood through his body and also operated as a lung bypass by adding oxygen to the blood. The CardioWest C-70 was connected to his atria and the nearby great blood vessels and was switched on. It took over the job of pumping blood.

The artificial heart is about the size of a human heart, Gomez said. It is powered by pulses of compressed air that enter the patient's chest through two tubes.

The C-70 heart has been used with 44 patients, according to Gomez. A patient at the University of Arizona was kept on the device for 186 days before receiving a donor heart, and she now lives a normal life.

Between 20 percent and 40 percent of the 170,000 people who die in this country every year from heart failure are awaiting a donor heart at the time of death. Only 2,000 actually get transplants because of the limited availability of donor hearts, Gomez said.