Mother-of-two Selwa Hussain, 39, has become the second ever person in Britain to be given an artificial heart
The 39-year-old mother of two has recently undergone a life-saving operation so radical that she now, in effect, carries her heart around in a rucksack.
The operation is so unusual that there is no one else in Britain in the same situation. Inside Selwa’s 15lb backpack are batteries, an electric motor and a pump that pushes air through tubes to power plastic chambers in her chest which push blood around her body.
Selwa’s astonishing story began six months ago when, feeling terribly breathless, she dragged herself to the car and drove 200 yards down the road to see her family doctor in Clayhall, Essex.
From there she was sent to her local hospital where she was told she was suffering from severe heart failure.
Four days later, she was in the world-famous Harefield Hospital – rushed there by ambulance, as cardiologists battled to keep her alive.
She was too ill to stay alive on a support pump to help her failing heart – and too ill to be given a heart transplant. So with her life ebbing away, her husband Al agreed to his wife being given an artificial heart.
Selwa’s diseased natural heart was removed by surgeons and replaced with an artificial implant and the specialist unit on her back. Selwa’s backpack contains two sets of batteries to power the motor and she has a second unit on standby in another backpack should the first fail.
Al, or another carer, must be with her constantly and, if disaster strikes, they have 90 seconds to connect her to the back-up machine.
Selwa has had months to get used to being kept alive by her ‘heart in a bag’.
It drives blood round her body at 138 beats per minute in a rhythm which causes her chest to vibrate. There is a constant pumping and whirring noise from the motor in the backpack that she wears when she goes out or leaves on the floor when at home.
The two large plastic tubes connected to the backpack enter her body through her tummy button and travel up to her chest. They then fill two balloons inside her chest cavity with air, which work like the chambers of a real heart to push blood round her body.
Selwa, mother to a boy aged five and an 18-month-old girl, said: ‘I was so ill before and after the surgery that it has taken me all this time to get fit enough to come home.’
Experts who examined Selwa’s failed heart concluded that she had a condition called cardiomyopathy that can, in very rare cases, be triggered by pregnancy.
When Selwa first complained of chest pains at the start of the year, GPs mistakenly thought she was suffering from a digestive illness.
The £86,000 artificial heart – made by an American company – was fitted during a six-hour operation performed by surgeon Diana Garcia Saez, and assisted by Harefield’s head of transplantation surgery, Mr Andre Simon. Harefield is the only UK centre using the device.