“In college, I wanted to be an architect,” says balding, greasy pitchman Dr. Robert Jarvik in his latest commercial for the cholesterol drug Lipitor. “But after my father had a heart attack, I devoted my life to studying the heart.”
“Good for you,” I thought to myself as I picked up the remote. But before I could change the channel, the serious voice-over guy came on with 11 little words that changed my life: “Dr. Robert Jarvik is the inventor of the ‘Jarvik Artificial Heart.’”
Excuse me? An artificial heart? Why had I never heard of that before? How much did it cost? How quickly could I get one? I had so many questions.
Like most Americans, my doctor has become increasingly concerned about my health as I’ve aged. My weight, blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol numbers have all climbed into dangerous territory, and terms like “your blood has a syrup-like consistency,” and “there’s only room for the first three digits” are now tossed around regularly during my doctor visits. No matter what I try (except exercise; that actually seems to work) every lab report is bleaker than the last.
But now, thanks to Dr. Jarvik, I have been given a new lease on life. After my artificial heart replacement surgery, I would never again worry about trivial things like diet, exercise, or blood consistency. I went to bed that night secure in the notion that not only would I be eternal (so long as I kept changing the batteries) but that I’d also enjoy a 50-pack of chocolate Munchkins in the morning with absolutely no regret. I slept well.
The next day, I got right to work on Google. As the search results loaded into my browser, I was overcome with an eerie sense that I was about to see my own immortality displayed right there on the screen. I got goose bumps just thinking about it.
Then it happened.
I had clicked on an MSNBC article that looked promising, but as the page loaded slowly onto my screen my mouth opened wide with disbelief and munchkin crumbs flew everywhere.
“Despite past failures, Dr. Robert Jarvik succeeds hawking statin drug Lipitor.”
Past failures? What failures?
I’ll save you the suspense: Jarvick’s “artificial heart” is a fraud. After graduating from Syracuse, the good doctor couldn’t find a U.S. medical school to admit him. So he went to Italy (which, as everyone knows, is famous for their medical breakthroughs). He only stayed there for two years.
After returning to the U.S., Jarvik eventually got a degree in medical engineering from NYU and then a medical degree in Utah years later. He never practiced medicine, however, and he only became famous after using someone else’s patent to develop the “Jarvik 7” artificial heart. In 1982 that device was implanted into a dentist. He survived 112 mostly painful days.
Later, after more deaths, the New York Times called the Jarvik 7, “the Dracula of medical technology” and declared that “the crude machines, with their noisy pumps, simply wore out the human body and spirit.”
I’m no medical engineer, but that doesn’t sound like a glowing review.
Jarvik’s “new and improved” device is called the Jarvik 2000, which sounds like something out of a bad science fiction movie, and probably is. It’s still in clinical trials, but initial reports don’t seem to indicate that mass numbers of humans will be undergoing full heart replacements anytime soon.
Call me crazy, but I always thought that the whole point of making something artificial is because it’s better than the original. Artificial sweeteners; no calories. Artificial tanning; no burns. Artificial breasts—well, you get the point. But that memo apparently never made it to Dr. Jarvik. But there is one thing that I do know: thanks to Jarvik’s incompetence my visions of eternal life have now been replaced with visions of vegetables, sit-ups, tread mills, and, ironically enough, Lipitor.