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Man With Artificial Heart Says Device Is Saving His Life

The recipient of the world's first completely self-contained artificial heart revealed his identity Tuesday. Robert Tools held a brief news conference at the Louisville, Kentucky hospital where the experimental device was implanted in his chest, saving his life.

Since the time of the operation almost two months ago, doctors who performed the landmark procedure have insisted on keeping their patient's identity a closely held secret. But it was Robert Tool's idea to hold the news conference with reporters at Jewish Hospital in Louisville.

Flanked by his heart surgeons, Mr. Tools, 59, appeared thin and frail as he faced reporters via a television camera. In a weak but firm voice, Robert Tools said he felt he had no choice but to undergo the risky artificial heart implant. "I could sit at home and die or come here and take a chance," he said. "I decided to come here and take a chance."

Mr. Tools was near death from diabetic complications at the time of the seven-hour operation to implant the artificial heart.

The experimental device, made by a company called AbioCor, is completely implanted inside the chest, and is powered by an internal battery that is charged through the skin. There are no wires or tubes attached to the device, as was the case with earlier man-made hearts.

As to how the heart feels, Mr. Tools says he is still getting used to it since he no longer has a heart beat.

"I have a whirling sound, and that makes me realize that I am alive because I can hear it without a stethoscope," he said.

Since the operation, heart surgeons have reported that Robert Tools' kidney and liver functions are better than they were before the transplant. Their patient is also slowly gaining weight and strength. While there's been some internal bleeding, doctors say they haven't seen any of the infection or clotting that plagued a handful of patients who, in the 1980s, received the Jarvik 7 artificial heart.