First artificial heart implant in Russia a success

Russia’s first successful implant of an artificial heart could help solve the country’s transplantology problem, where the demand for organs far outweighs the number of donors available.

The operation took place just over a week ago. The patient’s heart could have stopped beating at any moment, but thanks to Russian, American and German doctors, a 62-year-old woman will have another chance to live – for the first time in Russia.

Her organ has been replaced with a state-of-the-art “Total Artificial Heart” that will work for up to six years while the patient is waiting a donor organ.

“Compared to the pumps we have been using before, this system requires the full extraction of the human heart, except for the atrium, and passing its functions to an external device,” informed Leo Bokeria, the Chief Surgeon of Bakulev Clinic in Moscow.

There are just a handful of heart replacement operations every year in Russia, much fewer than in the West, but Russian doctors are anxious to use the most up-to-date methods to save people’s lives.

In Moscow’s Bakulev Clinic alone there are 45 people waiting for a heart transplant. All of them are in a critical condition, and some have just a few weeks to live. Doctors say there is an enormous demand in Russia for organ replacement operations.

One such patient is Mikhail Yermoshenko. He suffers from severe pneumonia, which has led to heart failure. For the last six months he has been in intensive care, waiting for a donor heart.

“All I think about now is the operation. I have never had heart problems before. But with the disease, it is like I am living in a totally different world,” confessed Yermoshenko.

Even though organ replacement operations are very expensive, in Russia most of them are sponsored by the government. There is also a law which allows the donation of organs and lays the legal ground for transplants. Regardless, surgeons say that there is a lack of public support for donors.

“The public are not prepared to accept the idea of transplants,” shared surgeon Konstantin Shatalov from the Bakulev Clinic. “We hear about 80 people dying in road accidents every hour, but not a word about medicine and transplants.”

Besides the cultural differences and general attitude that do not let the practice of transplants to develop in Russia, there are also organizational and logistic problems. Unlike many other countries, Russia does not have public support groups to coordinate organ donations.

Even though artificial organs are becoming more available, they are still being seen as a temporary solution. So for most patients on the waiting list, the only real hope is waiting for a donated heart.