A HEARTBEAT AWAY
A 1-hour television documentary
(in assocation with Face to Face Media)
The human heart is a marvel of biological engineering millions of years in the making, a sophisticated
mechanism which powers our bodies, minds and imaginations. This delicate machine must beat 100,000
times a day, 35 million times a year or almost 3 billion times over a lifetime to sustain us. Our unceasing
pulse is a constant reminder that we are alive and responsive; it lets us know whether we’re in love or in
terror, and it provides the sense of rhythm and timing which underlies our days and nights.
A Heartbeat Away takes a look at an astonishing new advance in transplant technology which has the potential to change everything about how we perceive our hearts. In the Western world, heart
disease is now responsible for more than 8 million deaths every year, but a lack of suitable donors has capped the annual number of worldwide transplants at only around 3,500. Spurred by these
statistics, Dr. O.H. “Bud” Frazier and Dr. Billy Cohn at the Texas Heart Institute (THI) in Houston have developed a new technology to produce an artificial heart called the Heartmate II, which could
fundamentally change not only the transplant world, but have a profound impact on human longevity.
This new artificial heart, which is currently concluding the first phase of human trials in the USA,
contains a pair of high-powered turbines that continuously push blood through the body. This
continuous flow model brings with it a very significant and very strange side effect - it eliminates a
measurable pulse. The beating heart, the rhythm which has for millennia bound us to the core of our life
force, disappears. In 2013, the THI team is poised to receive governmental approval for a second phase
of human trials, and five people will receive Heartmate II implants and begin to measure their heart
activity in revolutions and not beats. Our camera will be present to watch the process, look into the
science, and follow the journey of some of these pioneer patients.
This invention could have implications far beyond attending to present-day heart disease. The impact on society of thousands of people living without a biological heart - without a pulse - is hard to imagine. What happens when that number hits a million? Or tens of millions? With the cost of implants sure to
drop, it’s easy to imagine a possible future fifty years from now when a critical mass of pulseless people begin to have an influence on society at large.
Today we accept the science that tells us that our brains are the seat of our intellect and emotion, yet in
all languages we continue to use phrases like “suffering from a broken heart” or having a “heart to
heart” with someone, an indication of just how deeply ingrained this perception is. From exploring the
basic science of the heart to finding our how this part of ourselves has been regarded throughout the
ages in cultures around the world, our program will also challenge us to think about the future in a new
light. We still claim the heart as the seat of love and compassion, but with today’s rapid pace of
technological change do we now need to explore the question: what does it mean to live without a
With exclusive access to members of the next group of Heartmate recipients, A Heartbeat Away will following the ground-breaking human trials of this new artificial heart through surgery and recovery,
witnessing how this technology is changing lives today - and it will also explore what the possible influence of millions of pulseless people might be on everything from law, athletics, music and language to philosophy and space flight - the uncharted territories of tomorrow. Never before has society had to wrestle with the unique questions and possibilities which this technology presents.