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Barney Clark, first permanent artificial heart recipient

Artificial heart recipient Barney Clark knew his desperate bid for life was a gamble but he approached the risks with humor and a fatalism that came from years of facing certain death.

He died Wednesday night at the University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City from 'circulatory collapse and multiple organ systems failure.

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The retired Seattle-area dentist was 'a desperate man with a very difficult decision to make,' said his son, Stephen, 35, a nose and throat surgeon in Bellevue, Wash.

'He felt his only other option outside of the artificial heart was essentially certain death,' the son said. 'He also wished to make a contribution.

'He was trying to find some meaning, some purpose to his illness. This was one contribution he could make to people who have similar problems. His realistic appraisal was that the implant probably wasn't going to work.'

The first permanent artificial heart implanted in a human brought Clark back from the brink of death but complications followed the historic implant operation on Dec. 2.

He was returned to the operating room on Dec. 4 for additional surgery to correct a lung complication that permitted air leaks. Doctors explained after the one-hour operation that the surgery was minor.

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Clark appeared to be recovering again and performing simple leg-movement exercises on the edge of his bed when he suffered another setback on Dec. 7. While talking with his doctors he began having spasms, which were brought under control with drugs.

Doctors said a blood chemistry imbalance caused the seizures. They began feeding him a special diet that was the chemical equivalent of 'good old-fashioned' chicken soup and carrots through a stomach tube to treat the condition.

But Clark was slow to recover from the seizures. One week after the attacks, he was still drifting in and out of periods of alertness and doctors were worried about the slowness of his recovery.

Then, five hours into Clark's 13th day of life with the plastic heart, one of the valves malfunctioned, his blood pressure dropped and he was rushed back into surgery. Doctors repaired the valve.

Clark continued his slow recovery but doctors still worried that his mental alertness was not as sharp as they had hoped.

On Christmas, the medical center staff threw a small party for Clark. Nurses borrowed an artificial Christmas tree from another area of the hospital and set it up in a large room of the intensive care unit with a view of the Wasatch Mountains.

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Clark sat in a chair and waved at Santa Claus, who flew by the window in a helicopter on his way to visit young patients at the medical center.

Clark continued his slow, steady recovery until Jan. 9, when he developed nose bleeds. The bleeding persisted for nine days until doctors decided to surgically stop it. They clamped off two arteries leading to Clark's nasal passages and several days later declared the operation a success.

Clark celebrated his 62nd birthday Jan. 21, as the medical center staff presented him with a large, chocolate cake. He could not eat any, but he smiled and nodded his approval at nurses and family members enjoying pieces of the cake.

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