The AB-180, 1997 Prototype

From reading Sheryl Recinos’s harrowing memoir of surviving on the streets as an under-age runaway, to Stephen Westaby’s memoir of his most wrenching heart cases.

Sheryl Recinos ended up a doctor (amazing), but that part is not in her memoir, Hindsight: Coming of Age on the Streets of Hollywood. (Maybe there will be a sequel? Self hopes so)

Stephen Westaby’s memoir, on the other hand, describes his work as a member of the team that produces the first artificial heart.

Ch. 7, Open Heart: A Cardiac Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table

It took the team five years to produce a spinning blood pump the size of a bicycle bell, weighing just half a pound . . . First called the AB-180, it was intended to support the circulation for up to six months . . . It was so simple that one of the technicians attached a prototype pump to his garden hose and drained his fish pond with it.

The first English “guinea pig” for the AB-180 was a 21-year-old woman who had contracted “viral myocarditis, a viral illness like a cold, but when it involves the heart, it can be fatal . . . a desperate situation for a vivacious young woman who had been normal the week before.”

As self told Dearest Mum many years ago: Dying has nothing to do with age.

Look at self’s older sister, dead of streptococcal pneumonia at 34.

Look at Dearly Departed Sister-in-Law Ying, who died at 38 of leukemia which had been diagnosed less than a year before.

In Westaby’s memoir, Julie’s “leg was already blue — pouring out lactic acid.”

Self was the person who received her sister’s autopsy from Lenox Hill Hospital. Her parents couldn’t bear to read it, so self did. It listed her sister’s cause of death as sepsis. Blood poisoning. 11 days earlier she had presented at Lenox Hill’s emergency room, complaining of a bad cough.

As Westaby writes, “most patients with viral myocarditis get over it.”

As most patients with streptococcal pneumonia, what self’s sister contracted, probably do.

Self can tell you she never, ever expected her sister to die that year. That it happened so close to Christmas made all subsequent Christmases into depressing occasions. In fact, a Christmas present her sister had mailed from New York arrived in California three days after she had passed.

11 days. That’s all it took to move a healthy young woman, a mother of three, to illness and then death. That was time enough, though, for self to fly to New York. Time enough for her parents to fly in from the Philippines.

In Westaby’s book, “the doctors scrubbed with haste. What was more important now? Survival or sterility?” He grabs a scalpel and runs the blade “straight through, hard onto the bone.” He runs “the saw up the sternum.” As Julie’s “heart was stopping, I kept moving . . . ” He gathers Julie’s “flickering little ventricles” into his fist and hand-pumps.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

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