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Chayrez Case Aids Medical Research

October 13, 1986

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ The only person to receive two artificial hearts died on the operating table when a newly transplanted human heart failed, but her surgeon called her struggle a milestone in medicine.

Dr. Jack Copeland said it could be several weeks before doctors know why the donor heart failed shortly after it was placed Saturday into Bernadette Chayrez, 40, of Phoenix, who lived 244 days on her second mini-Jarvik heart.

Infections may have caused the failure, or her supersensitive immune system may have ferociously attacked the heart, the University Medical Center surgeon said.

Ms. Chayrez had been kept alive although her heart deteriorated to the point of total failure, providing ″a unique insight into the cause of viral destruction to the heart,″ Copeland said.

Ms. Chayrez also survived for nearly seven months on the Jarvik before she suffered a stroke, a common problem faced by artificial heart recipients.

Her case provided doctors with data that may help prevent strokes in other artificial heart patients, Copeland said.

He also said Ms. Chayrez’s case reinforced his belief that artificial hearts should be used only as a bridge to keep patients alive while donor hearts are sought.

″I think we’ve learned to be much more cautious,″ he said.

Copeland said Ms. Chayrez was aware that Saturday’s transplant, her eighth operation this year, would be dangerous. But he said she was not satisfied living connected to the artificial heart apparatus, and she thought it worth taking a gamble that might lead to a more normal life.

Ms. Chayrez’s own heart was destroyed by a flu virus in February, and she was kept alive for four days on a Jarvik heart before receiving a human heart transplant. The human heart failed, and Ms. Chayrez on Feb. 9 became the first person to undergo a second artificial heart implant.

Doctors sought for months to arrange another human heart transplant for Ms. Chayrez. Their efforts were thwarted by a variety of complications, including her system’s large production of antibodies that could reject an organ.

The hospital bill for Ms. Chayrez, who did not leave the medical center since her first implant, will exceed $500,000, the hospital’s chief executive officer, Alethea Caldwell, said Sunday. Insurance, the medical center and the University of Arizona School of Medicine will cover the costs.

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