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Boys Town National Research Hospital has never been afraid of change. In fact, it’s been our mission since opening in 1977: To change the way America cares for children, families and communities.

We change lives every day by using virtual technology to conduct hearing research in ways no one thought possible. We study the vestibular system to change how balance disorders are diagnosed and treated. We use video games and brain scans to change the path of a troubled child’s life. We change the way tiny ears are fitted with hearing aids and how children see and hear the sights and sounds of the world around them.

For the last four decades, Boys Town National Research Hospital has been internationally recognized as a leader in clinical and research programs, focusing on childhood deafness, visual impairment and related communication disorders. We have assembled national leaders in research who are making important contributions in the areas of genetics, hearing, language, vision and speech disorders. Applying our findings with new technologies, distance learning and the exploration of new research frontiers, the opportunities for new medical diagnoses and treatment discoveries are endless.

Today, the Hospital offers a broad range of hospital and clinical services, backed by 40 years of life-changing research, to provide the latest, most-innovative care. From acute pediatric inpatient hospitalization and surgical services to outpatient visits to residential care for children and adolescents with severe behavioral disorders, our board-certified specialists and highly trained pediatric nurses are focused on caring for the unique needs of children and their families.

Boys Town Hospital has two Omaha locations — the original Hospital near downtown and one on Boys Town’s home campus (Boys Town National Research Hospital-West). Clinical services provided at six locations in Omaha and Council Bluffs include general pediatric care with Boys Town Pediatrics; ear, nose and throat services (including audiology) at the Boys Town Ear, Nose and Throat Institute; internal medicine and pediatric specialty care in gastroenterology, allergy, asthma and pulmonology; and behavioral health, orthopedic and ophthalmologic care.

As we move forward, Boys Town Hospital continues to expand our research efforts, leading the charge in neurobehavioral research to study and improve methods for intervening early in the lives of children with behavioral and mental health problems.

Now some experts are looking to a future in which heart transplants are replaced by new technologies such as artificial heart pumps and stem cell advances – potentially in combination – while other experts argue the transplant problems can be resolved.

Charismatic South African Barnard, dubbed a medical Messiah, defied doubters when he carried out the operation at Groote Schuur Hospital on 53-year-old grocer Louis Washkansky in 1967.

He transplanted the heart of 25-year-old Denise Darvall, who had been left brain-dead after being hit by a car.

The operation started shortly after midnight on a Sunday morning and was completed just before 6am, when the new heart was electrically shocked into action.

Washkansky was given strong anti-rejection drugs to suppress his immune system and keep his body from rejecting the heart.

After regaining consciousness he was able to talk – and on one occasion walk – but the drugs made him susceptible to illness and he died from pneumonia 18 days later.

His transplant heart had functioned normally until his death.

The technique Barnard employed had initially been developed by a group of American researchers in the 1950s.

TransplantGETTY

Professor Westaby says that stems cells can be injected to regenerate diseased heart muscle

Surgeon Norman Shumway achieved the first successful heart transplant, in a dog, at Stanford University in California in 1958.

After the development of better anti-rejection drugs during the 1970s transplantation became more viable and Barnard continued to do pioneering work as a cardiac surgeon, including successful surgeries on children with congenital heart disease around the world – many living up to five years with their new hearts.

Now experts such as Professor Stephen Westaby, an internationally renowned heart surgeon, believe human-to-human heart transplants could soon become almost irrelevant.

For the past decade Professor Westaby, formerly of Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, has been helping to develop an artificial heart that could replace human transplants without the associated risks.

He says these pumps could be used with stem cells that would first be injected to regenerate the diseased heart muscle.

One terminally-ill 52-year-old man in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, whose heart was damaged by a series of attacks, has already undergone this double procedure and is alive and well six years later.

Westaby is planning human trials of the off-the-shelf device to be carried out next year.

Current versions of the artificial pump are not widely used in the UK as they are linked with a substantial risk of stroke or bleeding from the blood thinning drugs that the implanted patients have to take.

TransplantGETTY

Heart transplants are currently very rare, with only 150-200 taking place per year in the UK

However Westaby believes the new device, being developed by Swansea-based Calon Cardio, should almost eliminate these risks because the mechanics of it are less damaging to the blood.

The designers used technological improvements and highly specialised computer modelling of the way blood flows through the pump to perfect their design.

Westaby, author of Fragile Lives, a book on his life in heart surgery, says: Heart transplants are great for patients but there are so few of them they can only address the needs of a tiny number of patients we need to help.

I hope this device will be used as the equivalent of an off-the-shelf heart transplant for patients with severe heart failure.

Although he retired from surgery last year Professor Westaby continues to work in research and development, and adds: There needs to be a sea change in the way we deal with heart failure. We have thousands dying unnecessarily who could be saved.

Heart transplants are terrific but a mechanical heart pump along with stem cells is the way forward and I’m confident that within a few years we will see more people being fitted with these pumps than those having transplants.

Magdi Yacoub, professor of heart surgery at Imperial College London, established transplantation in the UK and disagrees: Biology is supreme. Entirely mechanical hearts will never be a replacement.

In an article in the European Heart Journal to be published this week, he also acknowledged the problems with current human-to-human heart surgery stating: The challenges include scarcity of donor organs, inefficiency and complications of currently available immune suppressing drugs, resulting in complications such as infection, risk of cancer and chronic renal failure. The good news is none of these challenges is insuperable.