New heart transplant technology grants woman new outlook on life

HOUSTON – It's been three weeks since the passing of Dr. Denton Cooley, who is famous for implanting the first artificial heart.

This week, the Texas Heart Institute at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center, which was founded by Cooley, continues his legacy with another medical breakthrough announcement -- another first for heart implants.

You've never heard of anything like this.

Before now, someone as petite as Cynthia McGuffie who had heart failure would have died because, as difficult as finding a donor is, it is even more complicated when the adult heart needs to be small.

"Up until this device came out, we were not able to treat a number of patients who would present with advanced heart failure," Dr. Jeffrey Morgan, of Baylor St. Luke's, said.

In September, Morgan made the decision to implant a new 50cc Syncardia Total Artificial Heart in McGuffie, who had been deteriorating for five months.

"Her requirements for medications were escalating, she was more short of breath and I think she would have died if we did not do this operation within a week or two," Morgan said.

The device is designed to fit patients with life-threatening, non-reversible heart failure.

These patients are not large enough to get the previous 70cc device.

"In my opinion, it really does represent a monumental leap forward in terms of what we can offer patients," Morgan said.

McGuffie is the third person in the country, and the first in Texas, to successfully go home with one.

"It's an amazing advancement for medicine. But for her, the glory is getting to be home for the holidays," Morgan said.

"I can move around. I can see my family more. I can just enjoy," McGuffie said.

Baylor St. Luke's said with as many as 100,000 people in the country are in need of new hearts, and only about 2 percent of them receiving a transplant last year. They plan to use this device as both a bridge to a donor heart transplant or for the long term.