Using A Back Muscle To Strengthen Weak Hearts

Thousands of people waiting for a heart transplant will die before they get gne--there aren't enough donor hearts to go around. But a novel surgical procedure developed by Medtronic Inc. in Minneapolis offers new hope for people with weak hearts. Called cardiomyoplasty, the treatment involves detaching a back muscle without severing its blood vessels and nerves, then threading it into the chest and wrapping it around the heart. Finally, a pacemaker-like device from Medtronic is implanted to stimulate the muscle electrically, causing it to contract and help the heart pump blood.

Not only does this procedure avoid the risk of organ rejection, it costs less than half the $130,000 bill for a transplant. Some patients leave the hospital after just eight days--although it takes several months for the pacemaker to fully "train" the back muscle. Medtronic says the results can be startling: Some former patients now play tennis. The operation was approved by European authorities in January. In the U.S., the Food & Drug Administration granted permission at the end of August for 20 medical centers to begin testing cardiomyoplasty on 600 patients next year.

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