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Robert Jarvik

AKA Robert Koffler Jarvik

Born: 11-May-1946
Birthplace: Midland, MI

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Doctor, Inventor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Co-Inventor, Jarvik-7 artificial heart

Physician and inventor Robert Jarvik attended but dropped out of medical school in Italy, after being rejected for admission at, by his own count, dozens of American medical schools. He later worked at a surgical supply house before being hired as an assistant in Willem Johan Kolff's lab at the University of Utah, where he earned his MD. He worked at the university's Institute for Biomedical Engineering, where he pursued the development of artificial organs. He is best known for designing an artificial heart.

Jarvik's device, called the Jarvik-7, was not the first artificial heart, but it was the first artificial heart designed for permanent implantation and, hopefully, lifelong use. After years of work and several earlier prototypes, it was surgically installed in the chest of a Seattle dentist, Barney Clark, on 2 December 1982. The device was compact and heart-shaped for implantation, but its use required a rather bulky external pneumatic compressor, with a series of tubes running into the patient's chest to connect the internal and external machines. Clark, who had previously suffered from severe, worsening, and virtually hopeless congestive heart failure, survived for 112 days after implantation of the Jarvik-7, though during that time he endured recurring infections, chronic blood clotting, and several strokes.

Jarvik's company, Symbion Inc, marketed the Jarvik-7, which was installed in more than 150 patients before being recalled by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1990. Jarvik later lost control of Symbion in a boardroom maneuver, but soon founded Jarvik Heart, which develops and manufactures medical devices to treat congestive heart failure. In the mid-2000s he was featured in advertisements for Pfizer's Lipitor, a drug used for lowering blood cholesterol, until controversy arose over the commercials, which used a stunt double to suggest that Jarvik, then in his 60s, was energetically rowing a boat, and over Jarvik's credentials he is a medical doctor, but not a cardiologist as the commercials seemed to imply, and he has never been licensed to practice medicine.

Jarvik also designed the artificial heart used in the 1981 science fiction film Threshold, starring Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum, telling a fictionalized story of the first artificial heart and released in theaters more than a year before the Clark operation. Even decades later, though, the concept of an artificial heart for lifelong use still seems to be science fiction, and the only FDA-approved artificial hearts are designed for short term use by patients awaiting heart transplants.

Father: Norman Eugene Jarvik (physician, b. 1913, d. 1976)
Mother: Edythe Koffler Jarvik
Sister: Barbara Mei-Ling Jarvik
Brother: Jonathan Wallace Jarvik
Wife: Elaine Levin (m. 5-Oct-1968, div. 1985)
Son: Tyler
Daughter: Kate
Wife: Marilyn vos Savant (columnist, m. 23-Aug-1987)

    High School: (Stamford, CT)
    University: BA Zoology, Syracuse University (1968)
    Medical School: University of Bologna, Italy (attended, 1968-70)
    University: MA Occupational Biomechanics, New York University (1971)
    Medical School: University of Utah (attended, 1971-73)
    Scholar: Artificial organ research, University of Utah (1971-76)
    Medical School: MD, University of Utah (1976)

    Jarvik Heart President (1988-)
    Symbion Inc. CEO (1980-87)
    Kolff Associates VP, Research & Development (1976-80)
    Endorsement of Pfizer Lipitor (2006-08)
    Issued Concealed Carry Permit New York City


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