Good morning, Honey," said Una Loy Clark, as she entered the guarded intensive-care room at the University of Utah Medical Center today. Her husband, Barney, the world's first recipient of a permanent artificial heart, looked up, reached out and squeezed her hand.
It was a sign, said Dr. Chase Peterson, that Clark, 61, is becoming more aware of his surroundings as he continues to "improve gradually" from a major series of seizures Tuesday.
But, he added, the patient is still not fully alert. His nervous system remains in a "deadened state," in which only slow improvement can be expected.
Peterson, university vice president for health sciences, said that Clark's vital signs remain in the normal range, his kidneys are "working well," and his body chemistry -- thought to be a cause of the seizures -- seems to be getting back in balance.
The critical thing now, he said, is monitoring the "slow recovery of his mental state. None of us can tell you there hasn't been any brain damage . . . until he's fully alert." There are no signs so far, however, that Clark has suffered any permanent brain damage, Peterson emphasized.
Peterson said that the results of both an electroencephalogram to trace brain waves and a "spinal tap," the latter to obtain samples of brain fluid through a needle in the lower back, also were "essentially normal," except for a slight increase in protein. This would be consistent with a chemical imbalance and rules out bleeding or infection, he added.