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Life Without a Pulse Is Possible

Illustration for article titled Life Without a Pulse Is Possible

At the Texas Heart Institute, doctors have developed an artificial heart replacement that produces no discernible pulse or audible heartbeat.


Put your ear against the chest of a patient with this implant, and all you'll hear is a faint humming sound. Touch their wrist, and there will be no pulse.

The machine is a continuous-flow pump that consists of simple whirling rotors, which spin a patient's blood throughout his body instead of pumping it. Since the device has just one moving part, it actually works better and lasts longer than other artificial hearts.


Doctors have successfully replaced multiple calves' hearts with these centrifugal pumps, and recently tried them in humans. Sadly, the man who received the new implant died due to complications from his disease—but he lived for more than a month without a heartbeat.

A final design, a manufacturer and FDA approval are still needed before the continuous-flow artificial heart can come to the market. But we can't help but wonder—how do you tell when a patient dies if you can't hear a heartbeat or feel a pulse? [NPR]

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"Look Ma'. No Pulse!"

Continuous flow is a better design no doubt about that, unfortunately the human body has adapted to a pulsing blood supply. The first problem the comes to mind is that, as dirty sacks of mostly water, humans tend to frequently restrict the blood supply to one part of their body or another. With a pulse, the restricted section may get some arterial relief during diastole, allowing some mixing of fresh blood upstream of the occlusion. How far this effect matters I don't know.

What I'm more interested in is the social implications of people walking around with no pulse. The Pulsing of another's heart is deeply ingrained into the human psyche. Often, the sound / feeling has a calming effect - is this genetic or learned behavior? Will the child of a mother with no pulse have difficulty imprinting, bonding, being soothed? Would the mother of a pulseless child have increased anxiety?