How a Man Lived six Months with no Heart or Pulse

Jakub Halik, a remarkable 37-year-old Czech, is the first man in history to live without a heart or any pulse for an astonishing half a year.

Halik’s odyssey began April 3, 2012 when a crack Czech medical team—led by the brilliant professor, Dr. Jan Pirk—embarked on a trailblazing journey making medical history with an extraordinary surgical procedure: removing Halik’s damaged heart and replacing the failing organ with the Heartmate II, a compact machine composed of dual blood pumps manufactured by the Thoratec Corporation.

According to the corporate website, more than 10,000 people have had their life extended and quality of life improved with the device.

The machine is actually designed to augment the function of the biological heart. Known in the medical community as an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device), the Heartmate II is not designed to completely replace a patient’s heart, yet Dr. Pirk and his Czech medical team pushed the envelope doing just that and, dramatically, saved their patient’s life. Halik is the first human to survive such an approach.

FDA approved the device in America during early 2010

The FDA approved the device for use in the United States on January 20, 2010 for use with cardiac patients whose current overall health precludes an immediate transplant.

USA Today reported on the case of Leonor Childers, the first American patient implanted with the device. “Childers, 46, a mother of four, was pregnant with her second set of twins when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.”

After one medical emergency after another that included surgery to remove her cancerous breast, follow-up chemotherapy treatments, the birth of the twins (by emergency C-section), and then more chemotherapy concurrent with radiation treatments, Childers heart failed.

As she explained, “My body just started shutting down, saying enough is enough. My liver blew out, my kidneys blew out. It was a life-or-death situation.”

Doctors treating her stepped up with a life-extending solution: a newly approved portable LVAD that’s miniaturized and works without a tether. Unlike the most-used previous machine, the Jarvik-7 artificial heart that constrained patients to a tether, the battery-powered Heartmate II permits patients to be mobile and continue with most everyday activities until a heart transplant can be performed.

Astounding first

During April 2012 doctors at the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine (IKEM) in Prague determined the young ex-firefighter would perish within weeks from a malignant tumor that was growing in his heart muscle. Yet, because of the cancer, he would not survive a heart transplant. Like Childers in the US, his cancer had to be dealt with first. Unlike Childers, his entire heart was removed.

After discussing their options, the IKEM medical team decided to go with the pioneering surgery. Halik’s heart was excised from his chest cavity and the Heartmate II replaced it.

Halik told The Sun,  “It was very difficult for me to decide what to do but an operation was my only chance.

“I was told that with the tumour I could expect to survive for no more than a year, so I decided to go for it and fight it all the way.”

The gamble paid off for the courageous young man.

The plucky survivor admits to being astonished at first that he survived. But he soon adopted to the machine in place of his heart.  “I’m used to it all now. I don’t even realize I don’t have a heart any more, he told The Sun. “My perception of my body is still the same, the only difference is I can’t feel a heartbeat or a pulse now.”

Has it changed him in any way, though? Does he somehow feel less human?

“I feel great…” he responded. “It’s amazing to think I’m functioning like a completely healthy man when I don’t even have a heart.”