The Quest to Create an Artificial 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.
Read what others are saying…
“Smart, compelling, and completely engaging, Ticker is a story about science, personality, innovation, and obsession, all in pursuit of a staggering accomplishment, the creation of an artificial heart. Mimi Swartz drives the narrative with great style and deep reporting; it’s a book anyone with a heart will love.”
Susan Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend and The Orchid Thief
“A remarkable journey through the harrowing world of heart surgery, as a brilliantly gifted and eccentric team of doctors work to develop a complete artificial heart, to save the thousands of patients a year whose hearts are failing.”
Bryan Burrough, author of Public Enemies, The Big Rich and Barbarians at the Gate
“Ticker is like a medical version of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. Swartz takes you into the operating theater with some of the most brilliant, ingenious and driven heart specialists in the world. It's a book full of memorable characters grappling with life-threatening crises, which is both illuminating about modern medicine, and also just a wonderful read.”
Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money
“An exciting, propulsive, and at times surprisingly tender account of the swashbuckling surgeons and inventive geniuses who achieved one of the greatest medical breakthroughs—the development of the artificial heart. Mimi Swartz has done an outstanding job, and uncovered the human story behind the triumph of technology.”
Jennet Conant, New York Times bestselling author of Tuxedo Park and 109 East Palace
“A thrilling and affecting account of a modern medical miracle. Ticker is not only an inspiring tale of persistence, imagination, and sacrifice, it’s also a joy to read.”
Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Looming Tower and God Save Texas
“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. (Aug.)”
Publisher’s Weekly, June 2018
"Ticker is a page-turner, a mind-expander, a heart-pounder. Swartz unveils a wild story of medical innovation with the keen eye of a storyteller."
David Eagleman, Stanford University neuroscientist and internationally bestselling author of The Brain and Incognito
“A fast paced, utterly riveting tale of the decades of effort that have gone into developing an artificial heart. The characters, many of whom dedicated their lives to this quest, are captivating, and their rivalries are the stuff of legend.”
Bethany McLean, co-author of All the Devils Are Here and The Smartest Guys in the Room
“Who knew that the story of the artificial heart was such a rip-roaring one, with one larger-than-life character after another, and plot twists galore? In Ticker, Mimi Swartz has told that story with verve and elegance, and brought those characters to vivid life. A wonderful work of nonfiction by a wonderful nonfiction writer.”
Joe Nocera, Bloomberg News columnist and author of Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA
"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.”
Kirkus, May 2018