Biographical, Health

Clark’s Legacy in Heart Program

Click to see original imageHow ever long the road to practical use of artificial hearts may be, history will remember Dr. Barney B. Clark as a pioneer in opening a new frontier in medical science.

Clark, 62-year-old respected Seattle area dentist and alumnus of Brigham Young University at Provo. Utah, became the first human being to receive a permanent man-made heart.

The 112 days that his life was sustained at University of Utah Medical Center on the air-driven system attracted interest the world over.
He died March 23 due to collapse of his circulatory system and several body organs. The artificial heart was still pumping. After an autopsy the plastic heart was removed to a hospital lab for further research.

Controversial though the artificial heart program may be, the Clark case could be the beginning of procedures that. once perfected, could prolong lives of countless others.

However, that horizon may be distant. University of Utah spokesmen say the heart program will continue. Before the next implant, however. the Institutional Review Board. working with Head Surgeon William C. DeVries, will review the Clark experiment and propose a new consent form and protocol that must be approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The new achievement carried out by DeVries, his first assistant Dr. Lyle Joyce, and their team of physicians and researchers is being widely-acclaimed.

Clark was honored as a hero and Utah Gov. Scott Matheson ordered the flag at the state capitol flown at half mast. New Jersey Congressman Mike Guarini recommended that Clark and Drs. DeVries and Joyce receive the Medal of Freedom.

But from standpoints of ethics. practicality and the ability to sustain a quality and rewarding life, there are major challenges and criticisms to overcome. Some argue that devoting so much money and talent to prolong the lives of a very few terminal heart patients cannot be justified.

Clark had been deteriorating rapidly from failing heart muscle when he received the artificial heart Dec. 2, 1982, displaying a pioneering toughness praised by medical experts.

Dr. DeVries said physicians learned that it takes much more than the heart to keep someone alive. Explaining the collapse of Clark’s light for life, he said: “The heart basically is a pump and if not very much blood gets to one side not much goes out.”

The doctor said Clark’s blood vessels were so dead that no pressure could be maintained even though the heart generated it. “The pressure was immediately lost as it entered the vascular system and there was nothing to move the blood.”

The unique place Clark eamed in medical history was summed up by hospital spokesman John Dwan: “He was an incredible man. He performed a great service to us all. The physicians and researchers know immeasurably more now than prior to Dr. Clark’s implant. That is his contribution to medical science and his legacy to mankind,” Dwan said.

Born into a humble Provo home, Clark worked his way through Brigham Young University and a Northwest dental school. His wife Una Loy Mason also was from Provo.

He sought no particular glory, but events of the past few months have heralded Clark’s name across the globe and carved a niche for him on the pathway toward one of medical science’s challenging and elusive goals.