The First Lifetime-Use Patient

Peter_HoughtonThe first patient to receive a permanent Jarvik 2000 FlowMaker® was Peter Houghton, a former palliative care counselor in England. Mr. Houghton, then 63 years old, received the pump in June 2000 to treat severe cardiomyopathy, or primary disease of the heart.

At 67, Mr. Houghton set a new world record. He was the first cardiac-assist-device patient ever to live so long — the previous record was 1512 days — supported by a single assist device.

Near the end of a losing battle with cardiomyopathy in 2000, Mr. Houghton faced a difficult choice. Ineligible for a heart transplant, he was near death and, in his words, had “made peace with it.” But doctors offered him an option. Mr. Houghton could volunteer to become the first lifetime-use patient in the European clinical trial of the Jarvik 2000.

After the implantation of his mechanical heart, Mr. Houghton did more than just survive. He resumed an active life. When marking his first anniversary with the device in 2001, Mr. Houghton completed a 91-mile charity walk to raise money for England’s Artificial Heart Fund. For over seven years, he worked full-time raising money to help more patients benefit from new cardiac treatments and promoting the kind of research that saved his own life. During his years of what he called “extra life,” Mr. Houghton published two books, lectured widely, hiked in the Swiss Alps and the American West, flew in an ultra-light aircraft, and traveled extensively around the world.

Mr. Houghton’s own natural heart was so dramatically rehabilitated that it could support him even if his mechanical heart was turned off for short periods of time. Once, when he was shopping in London, a purse-snatcher stole his heart-control system and battery, which Mr. Houghton carried in a camera bag over his shoulder. After the thief had run a short distance, a loud alarm began to sound because the battery had become disconnected. The alarm frightened the thief, who then dropped the bag. Mr. Houghton recovered it and restarted his mechanical heart himself, unharmed.

While supported by the Jarvik 2000, Mr. Houghton became a prolific educator and philosopher of medical technology, as well as an advocate of LVAD research. He died of acute renal failure in December 2007, his heart still healthy. A close friend of Jarvik Heart, Inc., he will be dearly missed by all.