New York – It’s a miracle device — a machine of plastic and titanium that replaced a failing human heart.
And a miraculous amount of money went into paying for the first self-contained artificial heart, implanted Monday in a dying man at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky.
The funding came in part from a $20,000 National Institutes of Health research grant and in part from a Massachusetts company called Abiomed — which shelled out $60 million for research and development of the device, called AbioCor.
Patients needing mechanical artificial hearts will have to pay about $70,000. Some analysts say that’s the price of prolonging life.
"Medical devices cost a great deal of money," said Dr. Robert Naismith, chairman and CEO of Emed Securities, which tracks medical and biotech stocks. "But if you’re going to take that type of a risk, the reward should be great."
The reward was great for manufacturer Abiomed, whose stock jumped. And the market is huge. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.: 700,000 people die from it annually, while only a fraction of that number — 2,000 a year — receive transplanted donor hearts to prolong their lives.
After a drug or medical device gets approval from the Federal Drug Administration, it takes time for insurance companies to include the remedy in their coverage — leaving patients who need them to foot the astronomical bills for years with no help from health plans.
Some studies show that the poor get far fewer heart transplants than the rich, even though they might be ahead of patients with money on donor waiting lists. But in many cases recipients must meet the strict medical requirements of getting an implant.
"I don’t think there’s any weight to the question of who you are determining when you get this or not," said Dr. Dan Fischer of New York University. "The question is whether or not you have the money to be a candidate for this."
Abiomed estimates that 100,000 terminally ill patients could benefit from its new artificial heart a year.
The grapefruit-sized titanium and plastic pump, inserted by University of Louisville surgeons during a landmark experimental operation, is expected to extend the unidentified patient's life only a month or so.
The device, known as AbioCor, is designed to allow recipients to maintain a productive lifestyle while wearing it. It is considered a technological leap from earlier mechanical hearts used experimentally in the 1980s — which were attached by wires and tubes to machinery outside the body.
The latest heart features an electric-powered pump designed to fit inside the chest with no wires or tubes sticking through the skin. Power is sent from a battery pack worn outside the body through the skin to an implanted coil, control package and backup battery.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.