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He Puts His Heart--a Plastic Jarvik-7--on the Shelf

November 16, 1986|Associated Press

McKEESPORT, Pa. — The plastic heart that sustained Thomas Gaidosh while surgeons located a human donor heart sits on his game room mantel these days, and Gaidosh is back at work in the driver's seat of a forklift.

"A lot of people said I was crazy to want to go back," said the 48-year-old father of two, who returned to work in early November for the first time since January, 1983. "But I'm just glad to be able to do the job again."

It was little more than a year ago that Gaidosh, his own heart failing, received a Jarvik-7 artificial heart. The mechanical heart kept him alive for four days, until a donor heart could be located and transplanted.

'Like Riding a Bike'

Returning to driving a forklift was "just like riding a bike," said Gaidosh, who has regained weight, strength and his sense of humor.

"He's just like the same old Tom," said Walter Lewan of Glassport, Pa., Gaidosh's co-worker at Enamel Products and Plating Co. of McKeesport.

"He said, 'Don't hit me anywhere. These stitches might not hold and my heart will bounce out,' " Lewan said.

"I never thought I'd work again. The way I was feeling and after they told me I needed a transplant, I thought that would be it," said Gaidosh, who was forced to quit working as his heart deteriorated.

Made Steady Recovery

Gaidosh's operation Oct. 24, 1985, was the first Jarvik-7 implant performed by doctors at Presbyterian-University Hospital in Pittsburgh. Four days later, he received the heart of James Riege of West Alexandria, Ohio, who had died in a highway accident.

In the year after his transplant, Gaidosh made a steady recovery. By February he was dancing the polka with his wife, Dolores. He also spent several days walking around the Disney World amusement park in Florida the same month.

By summer, he was swimming and working in the yard at his home in Sutersville, about 10 miles from McKeesport, and two weeks ago, he participated in a walk-a-thon to raise money for another man's transplant.

A Heart Keepsake

"I feel great," Gaidosh said, adding, "It's hard to express, to be able to do what I'm doing a year after that."

In March, Gaidosh dined with Dr. Robert Jarvik while the developer of the Jarvik-7 was visiting Pittsburgh. He asked if he could keep the $15,000 polyurethane machine that kept him alive for those four days.

"People ask me why I want it, and I just tell them, 'If anything quits, I'm shoving that thing in me to keep going,' " Gaidosh said with a laugh.

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