Ticker by Mimi Swartz


Mimi Swartz

Ticker provides a riveting history of the pioneers who gave their all to the courageous process of cutting into the only organ humans cannot live without, in their quest to develop an artificial heart.

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It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. If America could send a man to the moon, shouldn’t the best surgeons in the world be able to build an artificial heart? In TickerTexas Monthly executive editor and two time National Magazine Award winner Mimi Swartz shows just how complex and difficult it can be to replicate one of nature’s greatest creations.

Part investigative journalism, part medical mystery, Ticker is a dazzling story of modern innovation, recounting fifty years of false starts, abysmal failures and miraculous triumphs, as experienced by one the world’s foremost heart surgeons, O.H. “Bud” Frazier, who has given his life to saving the un-savable.  

His journey takes him from a small town in west Texas to one of the country’s most prestigious medical institutions, The Texas Heart Institute, from the halls of Congress to the animal laboratories where calves are fitted with new heart designs. The roadblocks to success —medical setbacks, technological shortcomings, government regulations – are immense. Still, Bud and his associates persist, finding inspiration in the unlikeliest of places. A field beside the Nile irrigated by an Archimedes screw. A hardware store in Brisbane, Australia. A seedy bar on the wrong side of Houston.

Until post WWII, heart surgery did not exist. Ticker provides a riveting history of the pioneers who gave their all to the courageous process of cutting into the only organ humans cannot live without. Heart surgeons Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley, whose feud dominated the dramatic beginnings of heart surgery. Christian Barnaard, who changed the world overnight by performing the first heart transplant. Inventor Robert Jarvik, whose artificial heart made patient Barney Clark a worldwide symbol of both the brilliant promise of technology and the devastating evils of experimentation run amuck.

Rich in supporting players, Ticker introduces us to Bud’s brilliant colleagues in his quixotic quest to develop an artificial heart: Billy Cohn, the heart surgeon and inventor who devotes his spare time to the pursuit of magic and music; Daniel Timms, the Brisbane biomedical engineer whose design of a lightweight, pulseless heart with but a single moving part offers a new way forward.  And, as government money dries up, the unlikeliest of backers, Houston’s furniture king, Mattress Mack.  

In a sweeping narrative of one man’s obsession, Swartz raises some of the hardest questions of the human condition. What are the tradeoffs of medical progress?   What is the cost, in suffering and resources, of offering patients a few more months, or years of life? Must science do harm to do good?  Ticker takes us on an unforgettable journey into the power and mystery of the human heart.

Advance Galley Reviews

This book is not for everyone but it is very educational and interesting story. I would highly recommend reading this book to anyone that is interested in biomedical engineering!

An interesting read regarding the creation of artificial hearts. It's definitely something I found surprisingly entertaining and informative.

I have been fascinated with artificial hearts ever since I was assigned to write a report on Robert Jarvik for an 8th grade science project. I enjoyed how Swartz set the context behind each development of treating heart disease. Especially associating its advances with the times of the Space Race and eagerness for scientific development as a whole, and then the waning after the lunar landing followed by distrust after the Challenger explosion. While it adds color and depth to the book to introduce each new physician and researcher as they came into the story, I found the frequent backgrounds and going back in time a little jumpy. One minute you are driving forward and wondering what is the next breakthrough surgery and the next you are learning about a physician's military past and wondering what they are about to contribute. Overall a good read and would recommend to those who enjoy medical history.

Well written and still educational. Walks the line between sensationalized and nerdy with bigger than life personalities and eureka moments.

I am glad I read this narrative about the human heart. I am not a medical professional but I still enjoyed the layers of the story. I felt like I was on a journey. I forgot there were other parts of the world that made their contribution but I still appreciated the effort. It was well written and researched. I was surprised at the enormous egos that were willing to sacrifice lives. Overall Ticker is a good book.

As someone who works for the American Heart Association, I was super stoked to read this book about the revolution of heart research, specifically the race to make an artificial heart. The lead "characters" in this book are pioneers in heart research and because of their ego, they have advanced heart research by leaps and bounds. It's hard to fathom a world where almost everyone immediately died from a heart attack, but we have come a long way in the last 40 years. We still have a long way to go, as cardiovascular disease is still the #1 killer of all Americans, but with doctors like these and the ones that follow, I hope that one day we will save even more lives.

I received an advanced copy of this book from First to Read in exchange for an fair and honest review. This was a wonderful book full of the unexpected and weird history of the artificial heart. This is a great book that I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from. This was definitely more exciting than a boring history book. I didn’t expect basically a war between different parties who were trying to invent the artificial heart. I also didn’t think that most of the players all happened to live and work in Texas! I loved learning about this and it was definitely written in a fascinating way that kept me reading late into the night! This is a great book that I would definitely recommend to anyone who is even remotely interested in this subject!

Great history-of-science book. The story is very detailed and convoluted, but uncovers the parts of medical progress that are never visible for the public and in general can be appreciated only in hindsight. Most of all, this is a book about personalities of the surgeons and inventors striving to save lives and, of course, for power, status, recognition and money. Despite surgical interventions being the topic of the book, it made me think that the healthcare's focus changing to prevention is a good thing indeed.

I didn't know how much I wanted to read about the journey toward the creation of the artificial heart until I read Ticker by Mimi Swartz. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I've recently been very interested in science history so when I saw this book was part of Penguin Random House's First to Read program, I jumped at the chance to pick it up. And I'm so glad I did. Mimi Swartz makes the history of the artificial heart very accessible to someone who has only limited medical knowledge. She masterfully weaves together the stories of the people who were the driving forces toward these medical marvels. By telling the history through personal stories and anecdotes, the book never feels dry or like a textbook. It almost reads like a narrative. There were times, at the beginning, that I sometimes got the different major figures, and their respective stories mixed up, but as Swartz fleshed out DeBakey, Cohen, and the many other characters, I was no longer confused. You can tell that the history has been meticulously researched. Terms like the "Jarvik heart" were familiar to me, but there was so much more that I learned while reading Ticker. As a scientist/engineer myself (although I'm no doctor) it was super interesting to read about the intersection of medical ethics and engineering trial and error. It really got me thinking how I would react on both sides; as the inventor, I would want nothing more than to see if my latest prototype would actually work; as a patient, or loved on of a patient, I would be nervous as to how these untested machines would work with my body. The book actually sparked a conversation between my boyfriend and me as to whether we would want doctors to effectively experiment on us if it were a matter between life and death. Obviously, that is a very personal choice, but the both of us decided that if we had no other options and simultaneously had the opportunity to advance scientific knowledge, we would do it in a heartbeat (pun not intended, haha). Overall, I really enjoyed this book and will definitely be recommending it to anyone who has an interest in science history. But even if you don't, I really think the narrative of the story could keep any reader captivated in such an interesting part of medical history.

I was bored to tears. DNF.

Swartz is a wonderful writer, stringing together a coherent narrative with well-defined characters of a complicated story: the quest for an artificial heart. It was well done and informative and I learned a lot, which I always appreciate. The biggest complaint I have, and it's prominent in my mind at the moment is that it. just. stopped. I was truly astonished to turn the page and find the acknowledgements. What? That's it? Where's the conclusion? It was like a fiction cliff-hanger, and I don't even like those. I know the story is ongoing. But the end seemed abrupt and odd, having newly introduced a character (yes, a real person), for the first time in the book, that didn't really go anywhere. But that's only foremost in my mind because I just finished it. The rest of it was a fantastic read, letting me into the world of competitive cardiac surgery (and let's be honest, it is perhaps one of the highest stakes competitions around), in which seemingly superhuman doctors race to save more lives, and in the process, burnish their own reputations. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

This book should be titled "Ticker: The Houston Quest to Create an Artificial Heart," as it largely ignores efforts elsewhere in the country and world. That aside, it is an interesting look at efforts in Houston to create an artificial heart that serves as a partial history of heart surgery as well as some of the milestones of the field, including transplantation and the creation of left ventricular assist devices (LVAD). It's also a history of heart surgery in Houston, including the major players in the field in that location and some of the politics and infighting between different institutions. It exposes the sad fact that medicine is a business and different individuals are willing to compete with one another in ways which are somewhat distasteful. The book ends quite abruptly, but overall I did enjoy learning some of this history. The book is definitely intended for a general audience and despite some terminology suggested here, it does not require any medical knowledge to read, understand, and enjoy. I would certain recommend it for anyone interested in medical history and/or innovation.

Ticker tells the fascinating, twisty, and often tragic story of the race to create the world's first artificial heart. Heart disease has been--and continues to be--a major health problem worldwide, and despite years of research and effort, the holy grail of cardiology has yet to be achieved. Swartz shares the story of the doctors, engineers, and medical oddballs who have pioneered the field of artificial heart devices and who have fought for the health of all mankind. The story unfolds through the lives and careers of the major players in cardiology over the past 6 or so decades. There's a lot of fun and memorable personalities at play, and there's also a lot of drama. The drama is understandable, since the first person to perform this procedure or create that device wins all the fame and funding, but it's also clear that the goal of these men was always to save lives. The patient care and the habit of going to extreme measures to save patients demonstrate the dedication of these doctors and their desire to treat and cure heart disease at any cost. Sometime their actions caused more trouble than not, but it was always worth it to give a patient even just a few more days to share with their loved ones. Of course, those extreme measures also meant the research moved along, sometimes for the good and sometimes not. This book is as much about the failures of artificial heart research as much as it is about the successes, but there's always a note of optimism, especially in the never-give-up attitudes of DeBakey, Cooley, Frazier, and the rest. A complete artificial heart has yet to be developed, but thanks to the countless hours of research and tinkering and patient care that these men put in, we're that much closer to that first artificial heart transplant. For someone without much of a medical or scientific background, I do think there are some aspects of the various procedures, techniques, and trials that might require a bit of Googling, but for the most part, Swartz does a nice job of simplifying the world of scientific research for the non-scientist. Overall, Ticker is a quick and incredibly interesting read for anyone interested in heart disease research or the field of cardiovascular biotechnology.

I was offered this book by the First to Read program and Im happy that I asked to receive it. Very informative and easy to read with an excellent and interesting story entwined. I highly recommend this book even if you have no specific interest in the subject.

Great book and interesting read, it was a book I couldn’t put down. The writer, Mimi Swartz, told the story of the pioneers of heart surgery in Texas as it relates to Artificial Hearts and the Texas Heart Institute. It was fascinating to learn about Michael De Bakey, Denton Cooley, Bud Frazier, Billy Cohn, Rich Wampler, and Robert Jarvik and the many patients that crossed their paths. The book is filled with the many trials, inventions, successes and failures that occurred during their years and what it was like to work with them. Definitely would recommend this book.

In the 1980’s, William Schroeder received an artificial Jarvik heart in a city near my home. It was quite the newsworthy story in southern Indiana, so I was interested in reading Ticker to discover the history of the artificial heart and open heart surgery. Mimi Swartz has an honest and friendly writing style that makes this book outstanding. Thanks for making this book available.

This was a truly fascinating book. I found the book and writing accessible even to someone with no medical or engineering training. It's amazing to me how far we have come, what it has cost to get here, and how very far we still have to go. Overall, this is an interesting, well-written book.

I have to say that I was a bit skeptic when I started reading this, but in the end, it actually turned into a fascinating book. It always amazes me to see what Mankind can create and achieve when they put their minds to work. How much we have evolved in the science and medicine area. But we still have a long long way to go, on all fields. A good book.


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