Carolinas HealthCare System
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Carolinas HealthCare System Becomes First in the Carolinas to Implant Total Artificial Heart

Carolinas HealthCare System today announced it became the first healthcare system in North or South Carolina to implant the total artificial heart (TAH). The surgery was performed at Carolinas Medical Center on January 13, and was led by Eric Skipper, MD, the medical director of adult cardiac surgery at the Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute.

"From the administration to the heart failure, surgical and transplant teams, this is a testimony to the incredible levels of teamwork and the commitment we have at Carolinas HealthCare System."

--Dr. Eric Skipper
Medical Director
Adult Cardiac Surgery
Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute

“This is a critical development for heart failure patients in our region,” said Sanjeev Gulati, MD, medical director of the advanced heart failure and mechanical circulatory support program at Sanger. “Until recently, these patients had few options available, unless they had the ability to travel outside of the region for care – a process that can be very difficult due to the severity of, and complications associated with, heart failure.”

The surgery took eight hours and the patient, a 49-year-old male, is currently in serious condition.

First in the Carolinas

The TAH is manufactured by SynCardia and is the first and only total artificial heart approved by the FDA, Health Canada and CE (Europe). Carolinas HealthCare System is currently the only provider of the total artificial heart in North or South Carolina.

“From the administration to the heart failure, surgical and transplant teams, this is a testimony to the incredible levels of teamwork and the commitment we have at Carolinas HealthCare System,” Skipper said. “This is a technology that can help a lot of people by providing a second chance to get a life-saving heart transplant.”

Sanger has a legacy of “firsts,” having performed the first heart transplant in Charlotte and completing the first successful re-routing of pulmonary blood vessels in a child with “blue baby” disease. Sanger physicians recently implanted the world’s first branched stent graft for the treatment of thoracic aortic aneurysms as part of an FDA pilot program.

“Sanger provides the most comprehensive services in the region, along with one of the most accomplished and experienced teams of cardiologists in the country,” said Paul Colavita, MD, president of Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. “We are proud to add this to our ever-growing list of accomplishments and we are proud to have some of the best cardiologists and surgeons in the world to lead this world-class institute.”

How it Works

During heart failure, the heart is unable to supply enough blood to the body. When one side of the heart is failing, a patient can be put on a left- or right-ventricular assist device. However, when both sides of the heart fail, a patient will need a heart transplant. The TAH sustains patients’ lives until donor hearts can be found, while also providing mobility to patients so they can leave the hospital and live as normal a life as possible.

Similar to a heart transplant, the TAH replaces both of the heart’s ventricles, four heart valves and provides normal blood flow to the body. To implant the TAH, surgeons remove most of the patient’s heart and sew in ports to the left and right atria, aorta and pulmonary artery and connect those ports to the TAH. Two clear plastic tubes extend through the skin below the rib cage and connect to a pneumatic driver, which powers and controls the TAH. When a donor heart is available, surgeons will remove the TAH and implant the donor heart.