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Artificial Heart Recipient Dies

November 21, 1985

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ Swedish businessman Leif Stenberg, the first person outside the United States to receive a permanent artificial heart, died Thursday of respiratory and vascular failure, doctors said.

Stenberg, 53, was the world’s fourth recipient of a permanent American-made Jarvik-7 heart. For many of the 229 days he lived with it, he had appeared to be recovering more quickly than other recipients.

Dr. Bjarne Semb, the Norwegian surgeon who implanted the heart April 7 at Stockholm’s prestigious Karolinska Hospital, said Stenberg’s case still gave ″grounds for a certain optimism″ about such devices.

Semb told The Associated Press Thursday he believed in artificial hearts ″as an acceptable treatment in the future″ after further advances had been made.

Semb said that Stenberg, who had suffered a severe stroke in early September, died at 1 a.m. in Karolinska’s thoracic clinic. The surgeon said that following the stroke, Stenberg had gradually lost consciousness and slipped into a coma.

He said that Stenberg’s wife and children had requested that no personal details of the patient’s final two months be made public.

A controversial figure, Stenberg was dubbed ″Mr. X″ in Swedish media accounts of various underworld activities in the 1960s and 1970s. The only indictment ever returned against him was a 1978 charge of tax evasion.

The case was dropped after the implant. Prosecutors said they did not expect Stenberg to recover enough to stand trial. Some legal scholars said it could have been argued that Stenberg was legally dead because his natural heart had been removed. Sweden legally defines death as the death of the heart.

At a news conference in July, Stenberg appeared with his wife Inge and broke the post-operational anonymity he had requested of Karolinska before the surgery.

Stenberg said his new heart had taught him that ″the best things in life are free.″

″I hope to be able to work again ... to show others this is a good thing,″ he told reporters. He also said he not canceled the coffin he had ordered for himself before his surgery.

He was discharged from Karolinska shortly after the news conference and lived by day at a specially equipped apartment near the hospital grounds.

He spent his nights at the hospital and was put on the waiting list for a replacement of his mechanical heart with a natural one.

But the stroke ruled out a transplant, Semb said.

″Stenberg never regretted anything. He had suffered several heavy heart attacks before the implant, so his days were already numbered. He wanted to prolong his time here on earth,″ Semb said.

He said that Stenberg ″for some time had been the artificial heart patient who functioned best of all such patients so far.″

Semb said Karolinska had made progress toward resolving the problem of providing a heart transplant patient with medication to avoid post-operative blood clotting without causing the strokes that have killed most such patients.

″Mechanical hearts are in an early development stage, and compared with previous developments within heart surgery, the heart-lung machine, artificial heart valves and even regular heart transplants, we have come pretty far in a short time,″ he said.

Semb said Karolinska ″wants to be involved in artificial hearts in the future.″

″I think we have contributions to make,″ he said.

He said, however, that the hospital had no immediate plans for another artificial heart implant.

Karolinska, one of northern Europe’s leading medical institutions, chooses the annual winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine.

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