UCSD Certified to Transplant Artificial Hearts

Jane Rho/Guardian

Heart failure patients in the Western United States can rest assured now that UCSD has become the first hospital in California certified to offer artificial heart transplants.

The medical school was certified to perform these transplants on Nov. 17. The program was launched by heart surgeon Jack Copeland — who arrived at UCSD in July — and UCSD chief of cardiothoracic surgery Stuart Jamieson.

Copeland is recognized as the first surgeon in the world to use the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart as a bridge to transplant in 1985, and since then has implanted more than 100 artificial hearts into patients.

Though the artificial heart is FDA-certified as a temporary transplant rather that a permanent device, Copeland said that the device ends up as a permanent replacement for a real heart for those who are no longer eligible for heart transplants.

“It’s not approved for long term use; on the other hand, the patient with the device in place the longest [have had it] for over 1000 days and probably have no hope of ever getting a [permanent] transplant,” Copeland said.

The cost of the device is around $125,000, while the cost of the procedure to receive a heart is approximately $12,000. Additional costs include hospital care, which is about $9,000 per day in the intensive care unit.

Copeland said he is working to ensure that UCSD Medical Center will be fully equipped, certified and trained to give patients artificial hearts by the end of December, a few months shy of the opening of UCSD’s $232 million cardiovascular center in April of 2011.

“It’s exciting how all of this is coming together pretty much at the same time,” Copeland said. “Together, it can change the overall picture of this center to deliver the highest technology care…in the most excellent environment that we can, so that UCSD becomes recognized for this as well the many other things that it is already recognized for.”

The certification at UCSD caused minor concern at Sharp Memorial Hospital in Serra Mesa, which also offers heart transplants. Since 10 transplant surgeries per year are mandated for a hospital to maintain its certification, administrators and doctors worried that there might not be enough patients to fuel both hospitals’ needs.

The artificial heart is currently certified in 13 hospitals in the U.S., and is undergoing certification in nine other hospitals.

Readers can contact Nisha Kurani at [email protected].

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