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Tennessee doctors removed a man’s heart to save his life

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – In an extraordinary operation, a Mississippi man’s heart was removed and replaced with what Baptist Memorial Hospital doctors call a “total artificial heart” — battery-charged electromechanical devices that will keep the 41-year-old man’s blood pumping until a heart transplant can be arranged.



a person wearing a hat: Heart patient Brian Pedigo sits on a hospital bed at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Pedigo's heart was replaced with two ventricular assist devices and a breast implant.


© Ariel Cobbert/The Commercial Appeal
Heart patient Brian Pedigo sits on a hospital bed at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Pedigo’s heart was replaced with two ventricular assist devices and a breast implant.

Wearing a surgical-style mask decorated with an American flag and the motto “United We Stand,” artificial heart recipient Brian Pedigosaid Wednesday that his life since his first heart attack —which came “11 days before my 33rd birthday” — had been a constant struggle with heart disease, including a “massive” 2017 heart attack and the almost complete bodily shutdown that led to his Sept. 3 surgery at Baptist.

“I was close to giving up,” said Pedigo, who lives in Booneville, about 115 miles southeast off Memphis, with his wife, Amy Pedigo, their two dogs, Remington and Angel, and a pot-bellied pig named Sassy Mae, nicknamed Sassy Pants. (“She talks back to Brian, that’s why I call her Sassy Pants,” Amy explained.)

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Fortunately, the artificial heart — essentially, a pair of pumps that replace the removed ventricles of the heart  — has given Pedigo a new lease on life, literally.

“I feel great,” said Pedigo, sitting on the edge of a hospital bed. Unsurprisingly, he looked thin and sounded hoarse. “For the last eight years, I’ve fought, gone down and come back,” he said.



a man wearing glasses posing for the camera: Dr. Dmitry Yaranov, Pedigo's primary cardiologist at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.


© Ariel Cobbert/ The Commercial Appeal
Dr. Dmitry Yaranov, Pedigo’s primary cardiologist at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.

Dr. Dmitry Yaranov, Pedigo’s primary cardiologist at Baptist, said only about 15 operations of the type that saved Pedigo have been performed in history.

“This is the most complex, the rarest and the highest-risk operation a heart patient can go through,” he said. 

Also, “the most technically challenging,” said Dr. Rachel Harrison, the surgeon who performed the operation with Dr. Martin Strueber, Baptist chief of cardiac surgery and thoracic transplantation.

“It’s a very unconventional approach,” said Michelle Lorenz, administrative director of transplant services at Baptist. “But we had to do it to save his life.”

Pedigo had been receiving treatment in Corinth, Mississippi, before doctors there sent him to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. From there, he came to Memphis, where his failing health called for extreme measures. 



a person sitting on a table: Dr. Rachel Harrison, the surgeon who performed the operation with Dr. Martin Strueber, goes over a diagram of heart patient Brian Pedigo's surgery at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Pedigo's heart was replaced with two ventricular assist devices and a breast implant.


© Ariel Cobbert/ The Commercial Appeal
Dr. Rachel Harrison, the surgeon who performed the operation with Dr. Martin Strueber, goes over a diagram of heart patient Brian Pedigo’s surgery at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Pedigo’s heart was replaced with two ventricular assist devices and a breast implant.

“His lungs were no longer oxygenating his blood,” Harrison said. “His liver was