The man who didn't invent the artificial heart was named "Inventor of the Year" yesterday for his work on the device.
Robert K. Jarvik of the University of Utah said yesterday that the award "was sort of funny" because he was "not really the inventor of the artificial heart" and holds no patents on it.
But Jarvik acknowledged that he helped develop the Jarvik-7 plastic device beating in the chest of Barney B. Clark, the first recipient of a permanent artificial heart.
Jarvik accepted the award, made annually by a trade association of inventors, the Intellectual Property Owners, on behalf of a series of artificial-heart developers that goes back 20 years or more, he said.
Both the award, which includes a $1,000 check and a plaque, and Jarvik's career have had some odd twists, which Jarvik discussed with humor at a news conference here yesterday.
The heart is not the first or even the second artificial heart to be invented, nor is it an unusual type. It was not the first to be implanted in a human. After it was implanted, it broke down twice. And it is encumbered by a heavy, wheeled cart that carries the heart's power source and pump, which must accompany the patient wherever he goes.
Still, the device is the most successful artificial heart built to date, and is the first to be implanted permanently in a human. Earlier artificial heart implants were temporary measures until a human heart could be found for transplant.
This first successful implantation, Jarvik said, will lead to many attempts to implant similar artificial hearts. Six others are approved for such implantation in Utah, where Clark's operation took place, and Jarvik said commercial production of an artificial heart will follow soon.
Yesterday Jarvik displayed a new power source and pump for the heart. The unit, about the size of a camera bag, was developed by a German doctor, Peter Heimes, and will be connected to future versions of the Jarvik heart.
The new power source and pump, which can be carried on a shoulder strap, is being tested in animals, Jarvik said, and will also be tested in some of the next patients to receive a Jarvik heart.
As an inventor, Jarvik's key contribution to the artificial heart was an internal diaphragm made of four layers of a special plastic material, interlined with graphite, to lend strength and extreme flexibility. The diaphragm can stretch and contract to pump millions of times without failing.
Perhaps the first creator of an artificial heart for implantation in humans was Willem J. Kolff, who also invented the artificial kidney and began the artificial-organ program at the University of Utah, where Jarvik works.
Others whom Jarvik said were key to the invention of the heart were Cliff Kwan-Gett, Thomas Kessler and Jerry Foote, all of whom also worked at the university.
Texas heart surgeon Denton Cooley was the first to implant an artificial heart. He implanted two during the mid-1960s, although they were intended as temporary measures. Both patients died within days of the implantations.
As an inventor, Jarvik holds several patents on surgical devices, including one on a pump that he said may be important in the next generation of artificial hearts: those which do not need to be connected to large, outside power sources.
Jarvik, 36, who failed to get into medical school "probably 25" times because of poor grades, said yesterday that he eventually went to medical school in Italy but failed to finish. He returned to the United States and worked with Dr. Kolff at Utah, doing so well that Kolff helped him enter medical school here.
Jarvik said his father's heart surgery was what impelled him into medicine, and later into building medical devices.