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Artificial Heart Patient Meets the World

Aired August 21, 2001 - 14:15   ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We are expecting to, of course as we've been telling you, to hear from the latest artificial heart recipient who's going to meet the press here, Natalie, and answer some questions we understand.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: His doctors, as we mentioned, are on the way to the location in the hospital where Robert Tools is waiting for them. Let's go back to CNN's Rhonda Rowland who's outside Jewish Hospital there in Louisville.

And, Rhonda, you were saying it was the patient who said OK I'm ready to talk with the media about what I've been through.

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and why, we're not exactly sure, why he's picking this particular time. Although, some of the staff told us that he's been getting a little antsy. He's been sitting in the hospital for about 51 days, so that's why that was his decision.

We're also seeing some pictures here of the patient. We're seeing -- we've seen pictures of him opening some of the gifts, he received a number of gifts and cards from well-wisher. He's a very tall, thin man. We also are told that he is down in another location, because he's at risk for infection.

Again, he's still a very sick man, and the hospital may have taken these steps to have him in another location so he's not put at any risk, Natalie.

And now let's listen in.


ROBERT TOOLS, ARTIFICIAL HEART RECIPIENT: For those who forgot, Jewish didn't seek me out. I came to Jewish because I was dying. I was on my last few days of life when my cardiologist informed me about the trial here.

So we contacted Jewish and came here, and I was accepted into the program after meeting certain criteria. So it was an experiment I asked for it, because I knew I had no more chances to survive.

I want to thank all of you for not invading my privacy or the privacy of my family, and waiting until the last minute to release my name.

If you have any questions, now is the time to ask.

MODERATOR: Mr. Tools, this is Linda and I'm going to help you out with this in our audience. Mr. Tools wanted to talk to Jean West with WHAS-TV, Jean?

QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Tool. You are the only human being that we know of who is living without a natural heart. Can you please describe this sensation for us, and how it's different? How it feels when you are lying down, when you are sitting up, or -- and right now is it beating a little faster than usual?

TOOLS: No, it's not beating faster, and as far as the feel, it feels a little heavier than my regular heart. I'm still getting used to it. And the biggest thing is getting used to not having a heartbeat, except here I have a rolling sound, and that makes me realize that I'm alive because I can hear it without a stethoscope.


MODERATOR: Our next question will come from Christina Moyn (ph) with CNN.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr. Tools.

MODERATOR: Christina, why don't you stand and face the back. I think he might be able to see you better.

QUESTION: Good afternoon...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christine, we couldn't hear that. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr. Tools.

TOOLS: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Hi. I wanted to ask you, why did you decide to go public and why now?

TOOLS: Well, because you were going to my neighbors, to my home and trying to find out who I was. So I decided to take away all the mystery of it.

MODERATOR: OK. Mr. Tools, our next question will come from your hometown, WBKO-TV. And Melissa Mayer (ph), are you hear, please? Are you here, please?

QUESTION: All right, congratulations, Mr. Tools. You were staring death in the face. How does it feel to now have a second chance at life?

TOOLS: Feels great! You don't realize how serious things are until you get to that point. Once you get to that point, you realize you don't want to leave here.

MODERATOR: Mr. Tools, I'm going to take you now to "USA TODAY" -- Bob Davis.

QUESTION: Can you hear me, sir?

MODERATOR: No, you need a microphone, and if you'll turn to the camera in the back, and I know it feels awkward, but he can see you.

QUESTION: Mr. Tools, can you tell us how you and family faced this difficult decision? You were facing death down, and at the same time, this is a very untested technology. Tell us a little bit about how you and your family made this decision?

TOOLS: That was no decision to make really. I had a choice: I could sit at home and die or come here and take a chance. I decided to come here and take a chance. And my family went along with me. We all decided that it's better to take a chance than to sit and do nothing, and that's what I did.

MODERATOR: Fox news, Dick Erby (ph), your question for Mr. Tools.

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Tools. How are you doing?

TOOLS: I'm fine.

QUESTION: I don't want make you any more nervous than you might be now, you are interrupting soap operas. You are on live. Have you had any second thoughts about this? The doctors said in the past they thought when you went public, you would do a great job, but that you and your family both perhaps dreaded this idea of having to go public and be in the fishbowl. Have you any second thoughts about having the surgery, is that part of it, the fact you would get such notoriety?

MODERATOR: Dick, can you repeat your question, please?

TOOLS: Before the surgery, if you had any second thoughts, were part of the second thoughts the fact you would be in the fish bowl eventually and so many people would be after you?

TOOLS: That is not a part of it. My second thoughts were about, am I going to make it? And the fish bowl has always been there. No matter where you go, people scrutinize who you are and what you do.

MODERATOR: Our next question will come from Rob Foshe (ph) with channel 32 -- Rob.


QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr. Tools.


QUESTION: My question for you will be this sir: how has this experience changed your feelings about mortality? You were very, very close from what you tell us. How has this changed your thoughts about life and death, sir? TOOLS: I realize that death is inevitable. But I also realize if there's an opportunity to extend it, you take it, and that's what I did.

MODERATOR: Paula Miles with WHAS Radio, next question for Mr. Tools.

Hey, Linda, can you hear me?

QUESTION: Yes, I can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Tools finish up with the last question?

TOOLS: OK, thank you very much.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr. Tools.

TOOLS: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Sir, could you describe your feelings and thoughts in what you first did once you awoke from the surgery?

TOOLS: I was happy to wake up and see people, to know that I was alive and to know that I had gotten that far.

MODERATOR: Mr. Tools, we thank you, we salute you, and we'll look forward to seeing you later today. Thank you so much. And Dr. Gray and Dr. Dowling, I guess you'll come back and join us?



ALLEN: And there he is joining in his applause for him. Definitely a trooper. We're getting our first look and our first time to hear from Robert Tools, the 59-year-old man who was so very close to death and took a chance and received the world's first self- contained artificial heart back in July, and it is still keeping him alive today. He was asked, how do you feel? He said he's feeling well. He's still getting used to it. He's getting used to not having a heartbeat, but he can hear the heart without a stethoscope. That's how he knows he's alive, and he chuckled when he said that. He said it feels great to have a second chance of life.

And as far as decision to go ahead with this ground- break operation and take the chance, he said there was no decision to make. He could sit at home and die or come to the hospital and have a second chance at life.

Let's go to CNN's Rhonda Rowland.

Rhonda, he could talk, he could stand up, was glad they didn't have him talk too long, because you can tell that he is very ill, and he talks with some difficulty. Tell us how long he'll have to talk holding his throat like he did and why he has to do that? ROWLAND: Well, he has a tracheotomy in his throat, and that is something commonly used in medical procedures, and this helps the doctors do certain tests, or help him with breathing or eating or anything like that. So they left the tracheotomy in his throat, and that's what makes it very difficult for him to speak, very labored for him to speak. That is part of this -- Natalie.

ALLEN: They implanted this July 2nd. At that time, they had only given him an 80 percent chance of living for 30 more days, and now, with this device, he has lived to August 21st.

Overall, how are things looking for him?

ROWLAND: The doctors say things are looking great. As you mentioned he had one in five chance without the heart living to the end of July. So the fact he lived this long, he has really exceeded their expectations. And again, the only experience they've had with device is in calf, and the longest the calf had this is three months, so there are a lot of unknowns here. They are very encouraged by he has continued to improve. He's had a few setbacks, with the ventilator, with some bleeding, but he continues to improve. He is putting on weight. His kidney functioning is improving. So they are very, very encouraged, but there still are so many unknowns. They don't know what will happen tomorrow. They can't say when or if he'll leave the highway.

As you can see, he's still very sick, but in my 15 years of doing medical news and seeing people after major operations, heart transplants, this is not unusual. It takes a long time to recover -- Natalie.

ALLEN: It was certainly delightful to be able to see him and for everyone to be able to hear from him, and the doctors said it was his decision to finally face the media. Was it part of the overall master plan, though, on behalf of the hospital to keep his identity unknown, to keep the pressure off of him to help in his recovery?

ROWLAND: Yes, that definitely was. It was made very clear to the family from the beginning that if they were to speak to the media that it would be up to them, that they would do everything in their power to help him maintain his privacy, not give out name, or information about his family, that again, if he was going to go public, it would be on his own terms at his own time. And they've been really fairly successful. There was a little leak last night, a little ahead of time, from what the patient planned, but he has been able to, you know, stay quiet and spend time with his family. His family apparently does come back and forth to see him, and they've been able to do that without having their privacy invaded.

And obviously, when you are dealing with a life-threatening illness like this disease and brand-new technology, you certainly want to have the freedom to be able to recover without having those kinds of interruptions.

ALLEN: When he was interrupted today, however, he did a great job, and he definitely is someone who say very courageous person to go through that and talk with the media.

Thanks, Rhonda, we'll check back with you. We'll continue to follow his recovery of course. And again, that's coming from Louisville, Kentucky today.



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