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Ticker
Cover of Ticker
Ticker
The Quest to Create an Artificial Heart
Borrow Borrow
It wasn't supposed to be this hard. If America could send a man to the moon, shouldn't the best surgeons in the world be able to build an artificial heart? In Ticker, Texas Monthly executive editor and two time National Magazine Award winner Mimi Swartz shows just how complex and difficult it can be to replicate one of nature's greatest creations.
Part investigative journalism, part medical mystery, Ticker is a dazzling story of modern innovation, recounting fifty years of false starts, abysmal failures and miraculous triumphs, as experienced by one the world's foremost heart surgeons, O.H. "Bud" Frazier, who has given his life to saving the un-savable.
His journey takes him from a small town in west Texas to one of the country's most prestigious medical institutions, The Texas Heart Institute, from the halls of Congress to the animal laboratories where calves are fitted with new heart designs. The roadblocks to success —medical setbacks, technological shortcomings, government regulations – are immense. Still, Bud and his associates persist, finding inspiration in the unlikeliest of places. A field beside the Nile irrigated by an Archimedes screw. A hardware store in Brisbane, Australia. A seedy bar on the wrong side of Houston.
Until post WWII, heart surgery did not exist. Ticker provides a riveting history of the pioneers who gave their all to the courageous process of cutting into the only organ humans cannot live without. Heart surgeons Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley, whose feud dominated the dramatic beginnings of heart surgery. Christian Barnaard, who changed the world overnight by performing the first heart transplant. Inventor Robert Jarvik, whose artificial heart made patient Barney Clark a worldwide symbol of both the brilliant promise of technology and the devastating evils of experimentation run amuck.
Rich in supporting players, Ticker introduces us to Bud's brilliant colleagues in his quixotic quest to develop an artificial heart: Billy Cohn, the heart surgeon and inventor who devotes his spare time to the pursuit of magic and music; Daniel Timms, the Brisbane biomedical engineer whose design of a lightweight, pulseless heart with but a single moving part offers a new way forward. And, as government money dries up, the unlikeliest of backers, Houston's furniture king, Mattress Mack.
In a sweeping narrative of one man's obsession, Swartz raises some of the hardest questions of the human condition. What are the tradeoffs of medical progress? What is the cost, in suffering and resources, of offering patients a few more months, or years of life? Must science do harm to do good? Ticker takes us on an unforgettable journey into the power and mystery of the human heart.
It wasn't supposed to be this hard. If America could send a man to the moon, shouldn't the best surgeons in the world be able to build an artificial heart? In Ticker, Texas Monthly executive editor and two time National Magazine Award winner Mimi Swartz shows just how complex and difficult it can be to replicate one of nature's greatest creations.
Part investigative journalism, part medical mystery, Ticker is a dazzling story of modern innovation, recounting fifty years of false starts, abysmal failures and miraculous triumphs, as experienced by one the world's foremost heart surgeons, O.H. "Bud" Frazier, who has given his life to saving the un-savable.
His journey takes him from a small town in west Texas to one of the country's most prestigious medical institutions, The Texas Heart Institute, from the halls of Congress to the animal laboratories where calves are fitted with new heart designs. The roadblocks to success —medical setbacks, technological shortcomings, government regulations – are immense. Still, Bud and his associates persist, finding inspiration in the unlikeliest of places. A field beside the Nile irrigated by an Archimedes screw. A hardware store in Brisbane, Australia. A seedy bar on the wrong side of Houston.
Until post WWII, heart surgery did not exist. Ticker provides a riveting history of the pioneers who gave their all to the courageous process of cutting into the only organ humans cannot live without. Heart surgeons Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley, whose feud dominated the dramatic beginnings of heart surgery. Christian Barnaard, who changed the world overnight by performing the first heart transplant. Inventor Robert Jarvik, whose artificial heart made patient Barney Clark a worldwide symbol of both the brilliant promise of technology and the devastating evils of experimentation run amuck.
Rich in supporting players, Ticker introduces us to Bud's brilliant colleagues in his quixotic quest to develop an artificial heart: Billy Cohn, the heart surgeon and inventor who devotes his spare time to the pursuit of magic and music; Daniel Timms, the Brisbane biomedical engineer whose design of a lightweight, pulseless heart with but a single moving part offers a new way forward. And, as government money dries up, the unlikeliest of backers, Houston's furniture king, Mattress Mack.
In a sweeping narrative of one man's obsession, Swartz raises some of the hardest questions of the human condition. What are the tradeoffs of medical progress? What is the cost, in suffering and resources, of offering patients a few more months, or years of life? Must science do harm to do good? Ticker takes us on an unforgettable journey into the power and mystery of the human heart.
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  • From the book

    1

    The Wizard, 2015

    Bud Frazier sometimes wandered through St. Luke's Hospital like a large wraith in a white coat. For decades he had traveled from his office in the Texas Heart Institute through the maze of attached hallways that was St. Luke's, a worn paperback perpetually open in his hand, often something by Shakespeare, rarely anything that could remotely be considered popular. At seventy-five, Bud had earned certain privileges: The right to walk and read, which kept a lot of people out of his way. The right to leave towels in swirls and eddies on the floor of the private bathroom in his office. The right to check his cellphone at society galas, because people assumed he was checking on patients, and sometimes he was. A few years back, Bud had had to give up his black cowboy boots for running shoes, because surgery, especially lengthy surgeries, could be as hard on your legs and your back as it was on your hands. He'd had two brand-new titanium knees put in last summer and had been glad when he was able to give up the fancy cane he'd had to use. It made pretty women solicitous, which made him grouchy.

    Bud's wife, Rachel, liked to describe her husband, generously, as an absentminded professor, but like many people at the top of their fields, Bud had lots of folks looking after the mundane details of his life so that he could focus on his work. Bud often forgot his wallet; he did not balance his checkbook; he did not "do" email. Once, when he could not find a parking place for a gala, he parked his old Jaguar XKE—a gift from a grateful patient—on the front patio of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, barely missing the fountains. Everyone forgave him his trespasses: Bud could list, among a very long list of friends and associates and patients and their family members, everyone from Mehmet Oz to the memoirist Mary Karr, from Dick Cheney to Bono, from Olivia de Havilland to various Middle Eastern and European royalty. He had a long-suffering assistant named Libby Schwenke who was charged with getting him from point A to point B, whether it was from Houston to Kazakhstan or just across the Texas Medical Center, which, unfortunately for her, was the largest in the world. Even so, Bud was perennially late, famous for slipping into a party or a lecture long after it was in progress, which allowed him to be simultaneously unobtrusive and a center of attention. Time for Bud was negotiable after so many years operating on the very sick, who didn't follow schedules either.

    So here he was, at the crack of dawn, alone. Docs a lot younger than Bud, with better knees but slower hands, were still at home next to their sleeping wives at five-thirty in the morning. Whether he could admit it or not, Bud preferred his office to his home, surrounded by the books that were always in danger of tumbling off the shelves—valuable first editions and ratty paperbacks; Plutarch, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, a few nods to the likes of Hilary Mantel and Larry McMurtry. His literary tastes were a lot more high minded than those of the average medical student rotating through the Texas Heart Institute, a fact he sometimes couldn't resist noting—to his med students. (When it came to literature, Bud was an equal-opportunity snob: introduced to U2 frontman Bono by a wealthy friend, Bud was appalled when the Irish rock star didn't immediately recognize some lines Bud recited from Yeats.)

    Bud opened the door and stepped into the outer office, with the bank of secretarial cubicles on one side and a wall of framed photos and clippings on the other. Because there wasn't any natural light here, the pictures were as fresh as the day they had been taken: photos of...

About the Author-
  • Mimi Swartz is a long-time executive editor at Texas Monthly, and a two-time National Magazine Award winner and a four time finalist. The coauthor of the national bestseller Power Failure, with Sherron Watkins, about the failures at Enron, her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Esquire, Slate, and her op-ed pieces appear regularly in the New York Times.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 7, 2018
    Swartz (coauthor of Power Failure), a Texas Monthly executive editor, delivers a riveting medical thriller in this story of the quest to create an artificial heart. The starring role belongs to a quirky and brilliant workaholic Houston heart surgeon in cowboy boots, Bud Frazier. The book begins and ends with the spotlight on him; along the way, the author takes readers on a rollicking ride with similarly fascinating characters. They include single-minded Australian inventor Daniel Timms and driven surgeon Michael DeBakey, who helped make Baylor College of Medicine into a world-class institution while alienating many colleagues along the way. A few of these people are described in terms more reminiscent of a romance novel than a nonfiction account, including surgeon (and DeBakey rival), Denton Cooley, who “was so handsome... he could make the wives of patients momentarily forget their husbands’ dire circumstances.” Readers will be on the edge of their seats waiting to see how Frazier and company overcome a variety of obstacles, such as the objections of a risk-averse FDA, the fallout from the death of the first artificial-heart recipient, and a last-minute shortage of funds. Told in an appropriately over-the-top style, this is a quintessentially Texas story: sprawling, unpredictable, and teeming with risk and opportunity.

  • Library Journal

    June 15, 2018

    This story of the development of a variety of heart-assisting or heart-replacing devices focuses on key individuals at premier hospitals in Houston. The only thing grander than the goal is the size of doctors' competing egos as they vie to be first to develop or implant a working artificial heart. Desperate patients are treated little better than the calves used for experiments. The hospitals proclaim them to be examples of success while the media reports horrible failure when critically ill volunteers die days later. Informal and chatty in tone, this history could pass for a soap opera except for the stories that are cut short. Readers are introduced to a couple who fall in love, marry, and then the husband feels ill. They disappear from the narrative till much later, when the husband receives an experimental device but succumbs to his illness four weeks later. After many promising attempts readers will wonder if there will ever be a viable, long-term artificial heart. VERDICT For fans of nonfiction with a little suspense and drama. Not recommended for animal lovers or people looking for a more academic treatment. [See Prepub Alert, 2/26/18.]--Susanne Caro, North Dakota State Univ., Fargo

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    June 15, 2018
    The legacy of heart-saving innovations viewed through the eyes of pioneering cardiologists.Because heart disease, which "kills more people around the world than all the cancers combined," is the primary threat to human health across the globe, it's vital that researchers continue to develop new ways to fight and survive it. Spotlighting the efforts of a long series of medical trailblazers, Texas Monthly executive editor Swartz (co-author: Power Failure: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron, 2003) charts the evolution of cardiac technologies. The author focuses on the personalities responsible for these breakthroughs and examines four Texans in particular and how their work has radically altered the surgical success and survival rates of heart patients worldwide. Swartz profiles several enterprising physicians at the forefront of this movement who were spurred to act swiftly "because advances in treating and curing heart disease weren't coming fast enough." Among them are determined coronary pioneer Michael DeBakey, risk-taking surgeon Denton Cooley, surgeon and "innovation evangelist" Billy Cohn, and the Texas Heart Institute's Oscar "Bud" Frazier, a Vietnam veteran and tireless career cardiac surgeon whose specialty was transplantation and the left ventricular assist device. All four--in addition to many others--demonstrated drive and the creative innovation necessary to revolutionize the way heart patients survived and thrived through the development of new techniques and lifesaving devices. Even casually interested readers will become fascinated by Swartz's vivid depiction of Frazier at work in the operating room. The author also analyzes the evolution of some admittedly dicey medical procedures and mechanical devices like the artificial heart, and she includes details on animal testing, a crucial necessity but no less heartbreaking for pet lovers. "Science isn't always pretty," writes the author, "metaphorically or literally." The author adds breadth and perspective with sections covering the case histories of desperate patients who came to the Texas Heart Institute for medical intervention.Swartz is a witty, savvy, seasoned journalist, and she offers a welcome history of significant medical advances.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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