A Medical Device Daily

Peer Portner, PhD, pioneer of the first implanted electric heart assist pump for patients with terminal heart failure, died Monday of cancer. He was 68.

Internationally known for his life-long work in developing mechanical heart-assist devices, Portner, consulting professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine (Stanford, California), developed the left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, which made history in 1984 when it kept a gravely ill heart patient alive mechanically for eight days until a heart was available for transplantation. Never before had such a device been successfully implanted in a human being.

Owned today by World Heart (Oakland, California), the LVAD has been used in more than 1,800 patients with life-threatening heart failure. The current wearable configuration, introduced in 1993, has allowed patients to leave the hospital and return to an essentially normal lifestyle. Implant durations continue to increase, the longest reaching six years.

"He was a mentor to many people around the world, from world-class surgeons to medical students," said Robert Robbins, MD, chairman of the department of cardiothoracic surgery at Stanford. "He had incredible insight into these cardiac-assist devices, their designs, their reliability and which patients were appropriate for the devices. He had amazing overall knowledge of their use."

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