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Lawsuit Over Artificial Heart

The widow of a man who died after almost 10 months with an artificial heart filed suit Wednesday against the maker of the device and the hospital where it was implanted, saying her husband wasn't adequately informed of the ordeal he would endure.

James Quinn, who died Aug. 26 after suffering a stroke, came to regret taking part in the trial of the self-contained heart and had talked about suing several months before his death, said his attorney, Alan Milstein.

Milstein said Quinn told him, "No human being should have to go through what I'm going through."

Rather than physical pain, Milstein said, "I think he was referring more to just the act of being an experimental subject, the prodding and the probing and the feeling that you were just an object being studied."

The suit seeks damages in excess of $100,000.

Spokeswoman Molly Tritt said officials at Hahnemann University Hospital hadn't seen the suit and wouldn't comment. Messages left with the heart manufacturer, Abiomed Inc., and Tenet Healthcare, which owns Hahnemann, weren't immediately returned.

"Unless the medical waiver James Quinn signed was completely deficient, or there is solid proof that Quinn was not treated properly after his implant surgery, this is going to be an awfully tough case for his widow to win," says Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.

Cohen adds that while a jury might be sympathetic to a patient in this situation, "jurors also will understand how experimental this procedure was and how grim his outlook would have been without it. So unless there is clear proof of fraud or the hospital or device was negligent, this starts out as the defense's case to lose."

Quinn, 52, was implanted with the AbioCor artificial heart Nov. 5. He suffered a stroke Aug. 23 and was withdrawn from life support three days later.

Of seven people implanted with the plastic-and-titanium Abiocor heart, only one survives. The trial began more than a year ago.

During his life, and at the time of his death, Quinn was described as a hero because the implantation of the artificial heart gave doctors and researchers a chance to further study the device.

"I understood that I would be a pioneer," said Quinn at one point, "if this thing worked, or if it didn't work, I would be giving something to mankind."

At the time that he received the implant, Quinn's life expectancy had dwindled to just one week, according to doctors' estimates.

In the months that he was then able to live, he recovered enough strength to be able to leave the hospital on several occasions, attend church, visit family and friends, and go home for his wedding anniversary.

"To me, it was either do or die," Quinn once said, asked about his decision to go ahead with the artificial heart. "There really wasn't much to think about."

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