Heart patient had to 'take chance'
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (CNN) -- The recipient of the first fully contained artificial heart said Tuesday "there was no decision to make" when given the chance to undergo the surgery.
Robert Tools, 59, spoke at a news conference at Jewish Hospital, making his first public appearance since the July 2 operation.
"There was no decision to make, really," said Tools, clad in a blue shirt and red tie and flanked by his doctors. "I had a choice. I could sit at home and die or come here and take a chance. I decided to come here and take a chance, and my family went along with me."
The Franklin, Kentucky, resident, whose identity was not officially revealed until Tuesday, recalled his first thoughts after the surgery.
"I was happy to wake up and see people, to know I was alive. And to know that I got that far," he said.
When you come close to death, he said, "You realize you don't want to leave here."
As for his new AbioCor artificial heart, Tools called the softball-sized device felt "a little heavy."
"I'm still getting used to not having a heartbeat," he said, describing the device's whirring sound. "That makes me realize I'm alive because I can hear it without a stethoscope."
Doctors have said they are "very pleased" with Tools' progress with the artificial heart, and the news conference came weeks ahead of when doctors thought he would be ready to address reporters. Last Monday, officials said they hoped he would be well enough to go public in September.
"People were going to my neighbors and to my home trying to find out who I was, so I decided to take away all the mystery of it," he said.
Although he has suffered some problems -- he recently had to be placed on a ventilator to help him breathe -- doctors Laman Gray and Rob Dowling said the artificial heart is functioning properly and the patient has shown no sign of serious setbacks, such as blood clots.
Dowling said Tools, an avid fisherman, needs to gain 20 to 30 pounds before going to a rehab house where he can be monitored and learn troubleshooting procedures. He will be allowed to go home after that.
"When he gets his strength back, the heart device will allow him to do whatever he wants to do. It will allow him to go fishing. It will allow him to go for walks," he said.
Tools was eligible to receive the experimental device because he was gravely ill prior to the surgery. He had been turned down by a heart transplant center and was suffering from renal failure and diabetes. Doctors gave him only a 20 percent chance of surviving longer than 30 days without the surgery.
Earlier artificial hearts were tethered to massive external power sources with tubes that protruded from the patient's body. But the AbioCor, developed by Abiomed of Danvers, Massachusetts, is fully contained inside the patient and powered by an external power unit that sends electrical current through the skin. Doctors also implanted a battery pack for short-term use. Doctors said Tools has been keeping busy with physical therapy and meetings with his physicians and nurses.
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