Doctors managed to save the life of a 71-year-old man with two hearts who suffered dueling heart attacks. "We haven't ever seen anything similar to this case before," Dr. Giacomo Mugnai said in an interview with MSNBC.
At first, doctors thought they had a typical case of cardiac arrest until they examined the patient more closely and noticed his unusual medical condition. It turns out that the man actually wasn't born with two hearts. His second heart arrived after an earlier medical procedure on his original heart.
The procedure, a heterotopic transplant, is done to pair a new, healthy organ with a diseased one.
"We see this in cardiac patients or kidney patients, sometimes," Dr. Rade Vukmir, professor of emergency medicine at Temple University and a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, told MSNBC. "Surgeons might leave a kidney in place if it's too much trouble to take out, or if there is hope for recovery of a kidney, or a heart, after a period of time" of being helped by the new organ.
The report first appeared in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, describing how the transplant team managed to merge the patient's new heart with his original, diseased organ. Of course, there's an inherent risk that if the transplant goes too well.
"You can develop two independent heart rhythms, especially in a scenario where one heart gets a little better," Vukmir said. Which is apparently exactly what happened to the Italian patient. After being admitted to the hospital, doctors administered drug therapy in an attempt to correct his dysrhythmia, only to have the medicine shut down both of his hearts.
Doctors then were able to successfully use a defibrillator to revive both hearts simultaneously. He's now reportedly doing well with his two functioning hearts.