Thirty-nine-year-old mother-of-two Selwa Hussain became only the second person in Britain to have an artificial heart, following a medical episode and a lifesaving operation to replace her diseased heart. As a result, she essentially “carries” her heart in a backpack, which includes multiple devices that allow the artificial implant to function.
As noted in a report from the Daily Mail, Selwa Hussain’s medical issues began at the start of the year, when her chest pains were mistakenly diagnosed with a digestive condition. About six months ago, she felt “terribly breathless,” and struggled to drive 200 yards to her family doctor for assistance. She was then taken to her local hospital, where doctors advised her that she was suffering from severe heart failure. Her next stop was at Harefield Hospital in west London four days later, as she fought for her life, too ill to receive a heart transplant at that point. That convinced her husband Al to allow doctors to have Selwa undergo an operation to get an artificial heart.
The operation, which was performed by surgeon Diana Garcia Saez, with assistance from Harefield head of transplantation surgery Andre Simon, made use of an American-made artificial heart valued at £86,000 ($116,230). The surgeons took about six hours to remove Hussain’s failing heart and replace it with the artificial implant driven by a mechanical unit that is stored inside a backpack.
The backpack weighs 15 pounds and comes with two sets of batteries that power an electric motor, as well as a pump that distributes air through tubes that are connected to Hussain’s belly button and extend up to her chest. The air from the tubes fills two chambers within her chest cavity, allowing them to simulate the functions of an actual heart and distribute blood around her body at a rate of about 138 beats per minute.
As further noted by the Daily Mail, Selwa Hussain has to deal with some challenges while being kept alive by her artificial heart. The motor in the backpack creates a “constant pumping and whirring noise” whenever she leaves home or leaves her backpack on the floor while at home. She told the Daily Mail that she felt “so ill” before and after the implant was installed that it took months before she was healthy enough to return home. Additionally, Selwa needs to have someone, usually her husband, constantly by her side; in the event her main unit malfunctions, her caretakers would have only 90 seconds to connect her to the spare unit doctors had given her.
Years before Hussain got her artificial heart, a British man who also suffered from life-threatening heart failure underwent similar surgery at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. According to BBC News, Matthew Green, who was 40-years-old at the time of the 2011 procedure, would have likely died had he waited for a conventional heart transplant but was instead given a plastic heart similarly powered by a special unit inside a backpack. He has since made a successful recovery, and, according to the Daily Mail, is still alive, six years after his operation.
Although Selwa Hussain’s artificial heart helped her “stay alive to see the New Year” with her husband and two children, as she puts it, the hope remains that she will one day get an actual heart transplant. As for the reason behind her heart failure, doctors who examined her diseased original heart believe that she suffered from cardiomyopathy, a condition that is occasionally triggered by pregnancy.