Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute Physicians Perform First Total Artificial Heart Transplant in the Carolinas

Eric Skipper, MD, FACS

Eric Skipper, MD, FACS
Medical Director of Adult Cardiac Surgery

Carolinas HealthCare System added to its legacy of medical innovation when Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute cardiac surgeons implanted a total artificial heart in a patient, which was the first total artificial heart (TAH) implantation done in North or South Carolina.

The surgery was performed at Carolinas Medical Center on Jan. 13, and was led by Eric Skipper, MD, FACS, medical director of adult cardiac surgery at Sanger.

“This is a critical development for heart failure patients in our region,” said Sanjeev Gulati, MD, medical director of Sanger’s advanced heart failure and mechanical circulatory support program. “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.”

Sanjeev Gulati, MD

Sanjeev Gulati, MD
Medical Director of Advanced Heart Failure and Mechanical Circulatory Support Program

The patient is a 49-year-old man, and the surgery took eight hours.

The TAH is manufactured by SynCardia and is currently the only total artificial heart approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (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,” Dr. 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 legacy of cardiology ‘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. Furthermore, System 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 some of 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. “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.”

Paul Colavita, MD

Paul Colavita, MD
President of Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute

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.

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 removed 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.

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