An official at Humana Heart Institute said Sunday that the artificial heart program is not a success so far because it has substituted mechanical problems for disease in cardiac patients.
“We hope that, eventually, mechanical heart disease will be much less severe than human heart disease. But, at this point, it has certainly not been that successful,” Dr. Allan Lansing, chief clinical spokesman for Humana, said on the ABC-TV show “This Week With David Brinkley.”
Despite problems with the program at Humana Hospital Audubon at Louisville, Ky., Lansing said: “If I were dying and I had something to live for, then I would try an artificial heart.
“If it were a life just to stay alive . . . no, I am not interested in that. But if I have something to live for and the mechanical heart is the only possibility of my achieving it, then I would certainly take a mechanical heart.”
Three patients have received artificial hearts at Humana. The most recent, Jack C. Burcham, 62, has died, and the other two, William J. Schroeder, 53, and Murray P. Haydon, 58, remain hospitalized with severe health problems. Schroeder, the first to receive the artificial device at Humana, has lived with his mechanical heart since last Nov. 25.
Schroeder’s son, Melvin, told television interviewers Sunday that two strokes since the implant operation have left his father unable to speak and unable to tell his family whether he regrets undergoing the surgery.
“It’s kind of like saying: ‘If I’d known I was going to be thrown out stealing second base, I wouldn’t have stolen second base,’ ” the younger Schroeder said.
Many critics, including Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm, who also appeared on the ABC show, say that the results do not justify the enormous expense.
Lamm argued that the artificial heart program has cost as much as was “spent to conquer smallpox on a worldwide basis.”
“We are now spending 11 cents out of every dollar in America on health care, and I think that a dollar spent on unnecessary health care is a dollar stolen from schools, or highways or re-industrializing America,” the Democratic governor said.
Another critic of the Humana transplants who appeared on the program, Dr. Thomas Ryan, president of the American Heart Assn., accused Lansing and Dr. William C. DeVries, the artificial heart surgeon, of acting as “judge and jury” of their own research.
Ryan urged creation of a “a policy advisory board over and above the primary investigators” to analyze “the data as the experiment is ongoing.”