Harefield Hospital patient goes home thanks to total artificial heart

Diana and SelwaA 39-year-old mother, who was losing her battle with heart failure, was able to spend Christmas at home with her family after receiving a total artificial heart at Harefield Hospital. 

Selwa Hussain was discharged home to spend the Christmas period with her husband and two young children. 

It is thought that she is only the second person in the UK to be able to leave hospital with a total artificial heart. 

Selwa was urgently referred to Harefield Hospital with end stage heart failure in June, and her heart function was deteriorating so rapidly that doctors had to put her on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), a life-saving device which delivers oxygen from outside the body and maintains circulation. Selwa, who has familial dilated cardiomyopathy, had been free of any symptoms until 2016.

Ms Diana Garcia Saez, specialty doctor in cardiothoracic transplantation who implanted the total artificial heart on 27 June, said: “Despite us increasing her medication, Selwa’s condition was getting worse very, very quickly. 

“Often, a ‘left ventricular assist device’ can be used to maintain circulation in patients with failing hearts, but this wasn’t an option because it would not have supported the failing right hand side of her heart. The only option to save her life was to implant a total artificial heart.

Harefield Hospital is only centre in the UK that uses the device as a treatment for patients with heart failure

Selwa said: “All I remember from before the operation was crying to my sisters, and giving my final wishes to my family. I remember when I woke up, being told my heart had been taken out, and I was so disorientated I thought ‘what does this mean, have I died?’”

The operation was led by Mr Andre Simon, director of heart and lung transplantation and ventricular assist devices. Mr Simon said: “The operation went very well and Selwa’s recovery has been excellent. For us as a medical team, being able to use the total artificial heart gives us an option when all the others have been exhausted. Without it, Selwa would not have survived.

Selwa spent August learning how to walk, talk, eat and drink again on Harefield Hospital’s dedicated transplant ward, and building up muscle strength through physiotherapy.

Selwa says: “I can’t thank the staff at Harefield enough: they have been absolutely amazing: everyone, the doctors and the nurses, but the physiotherapists are such experts, and the caterers, the cleaners, the healthcare assistants – they are all so positive for you, even when life felt very bleak. It is an incredible place.

Selwa’s artificial heart is powered by a portable driver that weighs seven kilograms and has to be carried around with her wherever she goes. She will need someone who is trained on the total artificial heart to be with her 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is on the heart transplant waiting list.

She added: “Over Christmas I could go shopping, visit my family and I cooked for the first time in months. The device is an absolute Godsend. To spend time with my family, to have some – even a little – normality back, is wonderful.”