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James T. Willerson, MD
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Heart to Heart Archive

Heart to Heart from Dr. James T. Willerson

January 14, 2013

Every war produces heroes. The war on cardiovascular disease is no exception.

To its gallery of heroes I now submit Linda and Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale and their family.

The McIngvales have admirably parlayed the success of their furniture business into involvement with, and support for, many important things in our city and state. The latest, and by far not the least, is their significant gift to support THI’s all-out push to develop a durable, life-saving artificial heart.

On Jan. 2, the McIngvales joined us in the battle in a big way, and I hope you will read the remarkable story of their involvement by Houston Chronicle science writer Eric Berger.

James T. Willerson, Linda and Jim McIngvale, Denton A. Cooley, Billy Cohn, and Bud Frazier at Texas Heart Institute.
James T. Willerson, MD; Linda and Jim McIngvale; Denton A. Cooley, MD; Billy Cohn, MD; and Bud Frazier, MD

Almost 6 million Americans are afflicted with heart failure. About half a million of them die each year from it, and about an equal number get newly diagnosed. Heart failure, the heart’s inability to pump blood adequately, has many causes and we clearly need to develop better ways to prevent and treat it. One of the limited options we have for people in severe heart failure is a heart transplant.

Yet, largely due to the shortage of donor hearts, we only do about 2,200 heart transplants a year in the entire United States.

Millions of heart failure victims, a couple of thousand transplants.

That grim equation is why THI has unceasingly led the quest to develop heart-assist pumps and a durable total artificial heart, since our founder Dr. Denton A. Cooley implanted the world’s first total artificial heart in 1968.

Dr. O.H. “Bud” Frazier has virtually dedicated his entire career to developing mechanical heart assist devices that have already saved and improved many lives. In more recent years, he has been joined by innovative and dedicated THI physician-scientists like Dr. Billy  Cohn and Dr. Hari Mallidi in refining and developing new cutting edge technology in this field.

In sum, the THI team has led the world for the last half-century in the push to develop a viable, durable total artificial heart.

BiVACOR artificial heart device
BiVACOR artificial heart
In another milestone leap forward toward that goal, the team is now working with Dr. Daniel Timms, a talented young biomedical engineer from Australia, who has designed a device to support or totally replace the heart. Called the BiVACOR, the machine is small, lightweight and deceptively simple. It uses a magnetic field, a spinning disc and centrifugal force to pump blood. Because there is only a single moving part and no friction, we expect it to be extremely durable.

Our team is now working to refine and test the device in order to have it ready for possible human clinical trials in only a few years. We are highly optimistic, and it is through their generous and forward-thinking support of this effort that the McIngvales have now joined the fray.

Words are inadequate to convey how grateful we are for this support.

Mattress Mack has become somewhat of a cultural icon for marketing acumen and in particular a signature slogan that his company, Gallery Furniture, “really will save you money.”

The McIngvales, we believe, can also rightfully claim that their support for THI really will save lives.

With respect and gratitude,

James T. Willerson, MD
President and Medical Director

Contact Dr. Willerson.
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