Minnesota woman surprises doctors with heart healing

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Three years ago, Collette Koskinen was in a hospital bed, barely able to move. Her heart was giving out because of a virus. She was too sick for a transplant. To keep the single mom alive, doctors cut a hole in her heart muscle and installed a mechanical pump so her blood would still circulate.

She wore a battery pack that powered the pump. Koskinen plugged in the machine at night when she slept. The gear could not get wet or she would have been electrocuted, and that meant sponge baths and no showers.

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As the pump worked to keep her alive, she worked at her job as a car sales person and worked out. Last summer, she walked three miles a day with a stroller that carried her emergency back-up batteries.

"I'm the bionic woman," she joked.

She was feeling so good she wanted to do something that didn't seem possible, even in her wildest dreams: to remove the pump. Doctors said Collette's heart was strong enough that it should be able to work without the assistance of that little jet engine implanted in her chest.

"In a small group of people we're finding that the heart recovers and in those individuals we'll take it out," said Dr. Benjamin Sun from the Minneapolis Heart Institute.

The $85,000 pump gave Koskinen's sick heart a chance to rest and heal. Last month, she had the surgery to remove it at Abbott Northwestern hospital in Minneapolis.

Most people go with the device for the rest of their lives or they get a heart transplant. Koskinen's case offers hope to other people with failing hearts, and perhaps someday, this will become a routine procedure.

"The goal is down the road we're going to put these devices in. We're going to have an idea if we could potentially recover you," said Dr. Sun. "If the answer is yes and you do recover, we take it out and you are on your way."

She spent ten days in the hospital after the operation and she will spend another six weeks recovering at home. She said she still has a lot of pain, but she's certainly enjoying her showers.