"We all think it's great," said Cathy Lewis of Cathy's Beauty Salon near Churchill Downs. "Everybody's real happy for Bill Schroeder, and . . . uh . . . what's his name."
Artificial-heart implants are beginning to seem almost routine here -- so much so that many local residents can't recall the name of Murray P. Haydon, the Louisville man who became the world's third recipient a month ago.
"After the first one, it's old hat," bartender Brenda Nichols said over coffee at Mae's Whiz Restaurant. "It's like the first man on the moon . . . all the others after him, they're just following in somebody's footprints."
Strike up a conversation here about the dramatic experiments at Humana Heart Institute International, and Louisvillians complain wearily about the glut of stories, updates, bulletins and photo opportunities, fueled by a savvy public relations team.
But the exhaustive coverage apparently has produced at least one positive side effect: growing public interest in and sophistication about medical science and human experimentation.
"The ladies come in here just buzzing about how our kids might be saved with an artificial heart some day," Lewis said. "They say that's the number-one disease in America, heart disease."
Questions poured in for Heart Institute Chairman Dr. Allan M. Lansing during an appearance on a local radio talk show.
"What about their sex life?" an elderly female caller asked.
"Oh man, I think it's going to be better than ever," Lansing replied. "They just turn up the drive rate, and they'll be all set to go."
"How can Bill Schroeder and Murray Haydon take a shower without getting electrocuted?"
The tubes connected to the heart through the abdomen carry compressed air, not electricity, Lansing explained.
"Why doesn't his body reject the heart?" a caller wondered.
Bodies reject foreign tissue, not synthetic material.
"When Mr. Schroeder talked to the president, did his adrenaline flow . . . and what effect does that have on the Jarvik 7?" a woman asked.
The body does react to stress, but the Jarvik 7 mechanical heart can pump out more blood without speeding up its beat, Lansing said.
"Well," the woman continued, "is the blood trying to get through this heart at a faster rate, therefore possibly causing a clot that 24 hours later lodged in his brain?"
The volume of the blood increases, but it flows at the same rate.
But it's unclear how much more information will be forthcoming. After Haydon's implant on Feb. 17, chief surgeon Dr. William C. DeVries announced that he planned to "pull back" from releasing information to the news media and would publish it instead in scientific journals.
Incensed by television-crew stakeouts at the hospital and by news stories about Lansing's earlier bleak prognosis for William J. Schroeder, the second recipient of a permanent artificial heart, DeVries said reporting daily details about his patients "really isn't any of the general media's business anymore."
The next week, Humana Inc. refused to provide a clinical spokesman to elaborate on reports of the latest in Schroeder's puzzling "brief periods of disorientation" that are a factor in his discharge date being repeatedly postponed.
However, Humana officials presented Schroeder's wife, Margaret, at a "technical briefing" to show reporters the customized van for artificial-heart patients.
Haydon's experiment has lacked the hoopla that surrounded Schroeder and his celebrated requests for beer and benefits from the Social Security Administration. That may suit the public just fine. Its appetite for hype seems to have lessened as its appetite for real information has grown.
After Schroeder received a mechanical heart in November, the airwaves were thumping with a locally produced song, "Everybody Needs a Plastic Heart." Three months later, when radio station WHAS cut into a Sunday morning religious broadcast with news that Haydon's operation had begun, irritated callers griped, "Are you guys going to do this again?" according to announcer Doug McElvein