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Last Updated: Monday, 22 March, 2004, 00:16 GMT
Heart pump saves dying man
Jim Braid
Jim Braid was suffering from heart failure
Jim Braid was so ill his only chance of survival was a highly experimental heart operation - with a touch of brain surgery thrown in.

The 57-year-old Scot's heart was so weak that doctors told him he probably only had two weeks to live. He couldn't even have a bath because he feared he would drown.

Too weak to withstand a full heart transplant, his only option was to become one of the first people in the UK to be fitted with an artificial heart pump.

The operation, only previously attempted on a handful of occasions, was highly risky, but Mr Braid had no real option but to take a chance.

I'm a greedy bugger and I want life
Jim Braid
He was lucky that the cardiac surgeon overseeing his care was Steve Westaby.

Mr Westaby is one of the UK's leading cardiac specialists, with 18 years' experience at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

He also has a reputation for taking on high risk patients that more conservative surgeons, mindful of their performance targets, would be tempted to turn down.

"It's the easiest thing in the world to turn down a high risk patient, but what does that do for the patient?

"For me surgery is not a job. It has always been a compulsion. If I can do it all of the day, and most of the night that is just what I will do."

Extensive surgery

Jarvik artificial heart
Few patients have received the artificial pump
The operation on Mr Braid was certainly a challenging one. First the artificial Jarvik heart had to be sewn into the top of his own, failing organ.

Then a power cable had to be fed up through Mr Braid's chest and into his head, where it was to be attached to a pedestal screwed onto his skull and connected to an external power supply.

However, before surgery could take place, Mr Braid had to undergo a battery of tests - just to prove that he stood a reasonable chance of coming through the operation alive.

The risks were explained to him, but he was determined to push ahead: "It's a chance. I'm a greedy bugger, and I want life," he said.

Mr Westaby was confident that Jim could pull through: "He has the grit factor, enough gritty determination to see him through the operation, and post-operative care, and that is very important."

Steve Westaby
Steve Westaby: 'addicted to surgery'
The tests were promising, but the hospital could not assemble the team of 20 experts required for the surgery for another two weeks - time that Jim could hardly afford to spare.

Finally everything was set. The surgery, although taxing and lasting for five hours, went extremely well. Mr Braid did not even require a blood transfusion.

As Mr Braid recovered in intensive care, Mr Westaby re-assured his wife Mary: "Everything is just as we would want it right know."

Recovery

Mr Braid's recovery was long and painful. His entire body had to adjust slowly to the heart pump.

Jim Braid
Two months after surgery Jim is up and about
"It may never been quite a normal life. We don't deceive ourselves that things are absolutely normal when you are attached to batteries and a controller," said Mr Westaby.

"But it is a fantastic thing to be able to take a device off the shelf, put it into a patient like Jim, who is literally dying in front of you, and resurrect him, if you like."

Jim was well enough to go home just three weeks after his operation. Two months after surgery, he was up and about and enjoying life in a way that was impossible before.

"I feel I'm getting better every day. I have got a life back, which I really did not have for the last year-and-a-half, " he said.

For Mr Westaby the satisfaction lies in giving hope to patients who many may have written off.

"To take that sort of case to the operating theatre, and to get it right and see them go off home is a great pleasure.

"Twenty-five years after first starting I still get just as much satisfaction and excitement out of it as I did when I first started."

Mr Braid's story is featured on Your Life in their Hands on BBC1 on Monday at 2100GMT.


SEE ALSO:
Pump hope for heart patients
08 Sep 00 |  Health


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