(CBS News) Retired high school teacher James Carelli, Jr. has had a new heart for the past several months - but it didn't come from another person.
The 66-year old became the first person in New England to have a total artificial heart implanted following a 10-hour procedure at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in February, 2012.
According to the hospital, Carelli was diagnosed with cardiac senile amyloidosis, a rare disease in which protein from the blood is deposited in the heart muscle, causing it to thicken and weaken. The condition would have eventually resulted in heart failure, and likely Carelli's death.
Carelli desperately needed a heart transplant, but the organ was scarce in New England and wait times could have approached nine months. With time running out, doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital removed his diseased heart and replaced it with a mechanical one that would pump Jim's blood through his body until a donor heart became available.
On Thursday, Carelli and his doctors addressed the media on how he's
Carelli said in a hospital video that he is attached to a large piece of equipment made by Ariz.-based SynCardia called CardioWest, which pumps the device in his chest that acts as his heart.
"It's a bridge, because if I didn't have the device, I wouldn't be here," he said.
Because the heart problems he was experiencing led to fluid
buildup in his body, Carelli developed kidney problems and will need a transplant as
well. He hopes his new heart and kidney come from the same donor.
"Since the February procedure, Mr. Carelli's overall health has improved dramatically, and he is currently on the waiting list for a heart and kidney transplant," BWH president Dr. Betsy Nabel, said in a hospital statement. The hospital had not previously announced the procedure.
Carelli said he feels so good with the artificial heart that if he weren't attached to a machine, he'd be out running.
"People are going to realize that if you have a real serious heart problem, you have an alternative now. It may take months, but at least you'll get through it," he said in the video. "And that's a big hope, because sometimes people have no hope at all."
The Boston Globe reports that the first total artificial heart implant was done on April 4, 1969, on a 47-year-old patient with severe heart failure in Houston. The heart was replaced three days later with a human heart. Since then, technology has improved and there have been thousands transplanted throughout the world.
Here's a video of Carelli, called "Waiting for a Second Chance."