LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Robert Tools, the first person to receive a fully self-contained artificial heart, died Friday, almost five months after the experimental device was planted in his chest.
Tools, 59, died of complications after severe abdominal bleeding, said Drs. Laman Gray Jr. and Robert Dowling, who implanted the softball-sized device on July 2 at Jewish Hospital.
"Bob became a dear friend to all of us," Dowling said. "We will miss Bob's laugh, his sense of humor and his fighting spirit. Our sympathy and support go out to his family and to all those who knew and loved Bob. His pioneering spirit will long live on in the fight against heart disease."
Doctors said earlier in the day that Tools, 59, had suffered a multiple organ failure and was unlikely to recover.
Tools, a retired telephone company worker, was suffering from congestive heart failure, diabetes and kidney disease when he received the artificial heart July 2. He had been given little chance of surviving 30 days without the surgery.
Even after the surgery, doctors said they hoped he might survive 30 days with the implanted mechanical heart. Instead, he lived for 151 days.
Tools' bleeding was attributed to the anti-coagulation problems he experienced as part of his severe and chronic medical condition, the statement said.
Four other patients across the country underwent the same surgery as Tools and are living with the AbioCor hearts. A fifth patient underwent the surgery in Houston this week but did not survive the operation.
Tools' deterioration was not due to a malfunction of the experimental heart, the statement said. The bleeding was also unrelated to a stroke he suffered Nov. 11.
At a news conference in August, Tools said he had a choice "to stay home and die or come here and take a chance. I decided to come here and take a chance."
"I realize that death is inevitable, but I also realize that if there's an opportunity to extend it, you take it," he said.
The artificial heart was made by Abiomed Inc. of Danvers, Mass. It was implanted by Drs. Laman Gray and Robert Dowling, one of a handful of surgical teams across the country trained to use the device in human experiments.
The device is considered an advancement from previous artificial hearts because it is powered by a small battery pack worn outside the body that transmits electrical current across the skin. No wires or tubes pierce the skin, reducing the risk of infection. The most famous of earlier artificial hearts, the Jarvik-7, was attached to cumbersome machinery.
As recently as early November, Tools was able to dig into a steaming plateful of collard greens, rice and a cheesesteak during a luncheon outing with Louisville's mayor. He had recovered enough to make frequent day excursions outside the hospital, including a fishing trip, and doctors had said they hoped he could be released from the hospital in time for Christmas.
That changed when he suffered the stroke. Doctors said Tools had not been able to tolerate high enough doses of anti-clotting drugs.
Doctors had said early on that strokes were among the risks for the artificial heart patients. The AbioCor was designed with a smooth plastic lining to decrease the chance of blood clots forming.
Tools' son, Carlin, said his father exhibited the strength and courage "of a champion" while fighting for his life.
"We celebrate his life, lessons and contribution to countless others who may one day benefit from the AbioCor artificial heart," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.