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Former University of Utah Inventor Robert Jarvik Receives Lifetime Achievement Award for Artificial Heart

United Business Media (UBM) will honor Robert Jarvik, MD, for Lifetime Achievement during the Medical Design Excellence Awards ceremony at Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) East on June 12 in New York City.

Jarvik is being recognized for his pioneering work in the design and implementation of bridge to transplant devices, like the artificial heart and left ventricle assist devices (LVAD).

Jarvik's odyssey began more than 35 years earlier at University of Utah Health, where he designed the Jarvik-7 artificial heart under the tutelage of Willem Johan Kolff, former director of the Division of Artificial Organs and Institute for Biomedical Engineering.

The Jarvik-7 took centerstage in the late hours of December 2, 1982. As a blizzard raged outside, William DeVries, MD, led acardiovascular team, who took the pioneering step of replacing the ravaged heart of Dr. Barney Clark, a dentist from Seattle, with the Jarvik-7 device.

"[Clark] deteriorated rather fast and Dr. DeVries did not think he would live through the night," Jarvik told Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry (MD+DI). "The logistics of these cases are very important and if you have an artificial heart patient or a VAD patient that you've concluded needs the operation, you shouldn't delay at all."

The surgery captivated the world.

When Clark awoke, he looked at his wife, Una Loy, and said, "I want to tell you even though I have no heart, I still love you," according to a previous U of U Health interview with DeVries. Thealuminum and polyurethanedevice connected Clark to a 400-pound air compressor, which replaced the pumping function of his damaged heart. While he only survived for an additional 112 days, this monumental step was the first in the new frontier of medical technology that, when honed and perfected, went on to save numerous lives.

Clark Riding Exercise Bike After Surgery
Barny Clark rides a rides an exercise bike after surgery.

Jarvik, who received his medical degree at the U School of Medicine, went on to lead Symbion, Inc., based in Salt Lake City, to produce the Jarvik-7. In 1987 he founded Jarvik Research, Inc. based in New York where he developed the first ventricular assist device. Today, he is Chairman and CEO of the medical device company, Jarvik Heart, Inc.

"We take great pride in our history of medical innovation here at the University of Utah," said Craig Selzman, MD, chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at U of U Health. "Dr. Jarvik, along with the entire Kolff team, holds an important place in the legacy of heart surgery established over 60 years ago by Drs. Rumel and Nelson. The development of devices to support the failing heart, including the total artificial heart, pioneered by this group of creative and inspired investigators created the foundation for what we do today."

In a conversation with MD+DI, Jarvik encouraged young medtech engineers and innovators to stick to their passion so they can stay the course no matter what challenges may arise.

"Usually, you can't do the best job on the first try, and usually, there's a learning curve and that certainly applies to engineering," Jarvik told MD+DI. "So, in light of the expectation that the first attempts are going to be less than optimal, I would advise young folks to go for the very best that they think they can get to, and realize that later on, they may find some better ideas. But get started and go for it."

Jarvik Holding Artificial Heart
Robert Jarvik with the Jarvik-7 artificial heart. Courtesy of the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library, University of Utah

Every year, the UBM medical content team selects an industry pioneer to receive the MDEA Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of the contributions to the medtech industry that demonstrate the impact on technological, business and cultural advancements in the world. Previous UBM Lifetime achievement recipients include Robert Fischell, Manny Villafaña, John Abele, Dean Kamen, Robert Langer, Thomas Fogarty, and Alfred Mann.