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(HOUSTON) -- Craig Lewis, a 55-year-old Texas man who was about 12 hours away from death, became the first human to receive what doctors are calling the "beatless heart."
The device -- two ventricular assist devices intricately tied together, replacing his entire heart -- was developed by Drs. Billy Cohn and O.A. "Bud" Frazier at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston.
They say this new machine, which whirls instead of pulses, is more reliable and could replace existing artificial hearts, which wear out and can cause clotting and strokes.
"Every animal created has a pulsatile heart, and to mimic that was the natural way to proceed," said Cohn. "But to make something that actually can beat 100,000 times a day, 35 million times a year, a man-made device has to perform with that kind of endurance."
"A car can, but you change the oil and the spark plugs and do the maintenance and they go and go," he said. "These pulsating hearts work only a year or two, then fall apart."
Older devices would have also been too large to place in women's smaller bodies. The new beatless heart is "self-contained, smaller and a more durable device," said Cohn.
Lewis, in the advanced stages of cardiac amyloidosis, which causes the organs to fail as the body accumulates abnormal proteins, had been in a coma-like state. He died last March from underlying disease, five weeks after receiving the beatless heart.
But doctors said that the heart worked perfectly. Lewis was able to sit up and talk to his family before his kidneys and liver eroded. The family ultimately chose to turn off the heart device to allow him to die "humanely," said Cohn.
The first "beatless" heart experiments were done on a calf named Abigail, and later on 38 calves, whose hearts were removed and replaced with two centrifugal pumps.
In March, when doctors felt confident the artificial heart would also work in humans, they were approached by Craig Lewis' wife, Linda.
Hospital officials said she was "too emotional" to talk to ABC News, but in another interview earlier this week, she said that her husband would have appreciated the doctors' invention, fashioned from Dacron, fiberglass and silicone.
Until now, those with full heart failure have had only had two options: a first-generation artificial heart that had limitations, or a heart transplant. But the wait for a new heart can be long, if one becomes available at all. More than 100,000 Americans are on a list for about 2,200 hearts a year.
The new machine relies on two simple whirling rotors, spinning blood throughout the body in a continuous flow, addressing previous problems with clotting, thrombosis and bleeding.
"I think it's fascinating," said Dr. Jay Pal, assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
Left ventricular assist devices, like the one that keeps former Vice President Dick Cheney alive, only help those with failure of the left side of the heart. This device can help those with right-side failure or failure on both sides.
Lewis had not been a candidate for an assist pump because his left ventricle was too badly damaged by disease, and his right ventricle had also failed.
"It certainly provides more options for people who are living with advanced heart failure, and results like these show a lot of promise and move the field forward," said Pal.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio***65279;