Artificial Heart Goes Transatlantic

A year ago, 71 year-old Gershon Gefen underwent a heart transplant with the "Heart 2 device," a permanent artificial heart, at Rabin Medical Center's Cardiothoracic Surgery Department, headed by Dr. Eyal Porat. Going abroad was the last thing on his mind. Yet a year later, Gershon became the first such person in the world to take a transatlantic flight, to visit his daughter who lives in the United States.

The transplant, only several of which have ever been performed anywhere in the world, was conducted by Dr. Eyal Porat and Dr. Benjamin Medalion of the heart-lung transplant unit, assisted by a German specialist in this field, who arrived specially to do this procedure.

It was no easy feat for Gershon to arrange to take a flight from Israel to the USA after his surgery. First he pleaded with several insurance companies for months until he finally found a company which agreed to insure him, and then he had to find an airline which would agree to his flight. They all said that the electronic equipment he needed would upset the plane's communications systems and that there was no suitable infrastructure. In desperation he turned to his doctors at Rabin Medical Center, including his attending cardiologist Dr. Tuvia Ben-Gal, head of the Cardiac Failure and Cardiomyopathies Clinic, who said there was no problem, as long as the device supporting the heart was connected to a power line throughout the flight. Finally, El Al Airlines agreed, but only after they did a trial run where Gershon and his new heart device were connected to the plane's power line and they saw that everything operated smoothly.

While in the USA he was assisted by Beth Israel Hospital in New York, where he was fitted with a device that made it possible for him to recharge his heart using the American standard 110 volts of electricity rather than Israel's 220 volts. After a wonderful three-week vacation with his daughter, he said he would have never gotten off the ground if not for the unbelievable help of his physicians at Rabin Medical Center and the electronics officer at El Al airlines. This was a flight he will never forget.

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