Swartz takes readers on behind-the-scenes journey into heart surgeons' quest to develop an artificial heart, chronicling the evolution of cardiac medicine, from pioneering efforts in open heart surgery and bypass operations to the advent of valve replacement and heart transplants to the introduction of the Left Ventricle Assist Device (or LVAD).
Swartz tells all their stories with a novelist’s deft touch for character and dramatic tension ... The philosophical off-gassing that accompanies these developments [in heart techology] is also addressed ... Ticker needs no further comparisons to The Right Stuff. But there are some similarities: Both space exploration and the development of an artificial heart are pursuits that do not yet have a final chapter. And both enjoyed periods of great renown, only to have the public begin to lose the fervor of its early interest ... Those involved in the development can’t settle into the complacency that immerses the rest of us. Which means Swartz had to build an ending that I won’t describe here because it’s too fragile and beautiful to spoil.
The holy grail is a device that would make transplants altogether unnecessary. The search for that grail has been, as Mimi Swartz shows in her fascinating book, as complicated as the essential organ itself ... Ticker introduces readers to a dizzying array of hospitals, medical centers, institutes, laboratories and garage workshops where investors, inventors and innovators have been hard at work. In part because of the local focus of Ms. Swartz’s reporting and writing, the most well-developed characters are native or adopted Texans ... The wild early days of heart research had coincided with the period when NASA was trying to put a man on the moon, and Houston became the linchpin of both engineering efforts. The importance of engineers working alongside doctors and physical scientists turns out to be a leitmotif of Ms. Swartz’s book ... The debate continues, as does the quest to create hearts that could not only save lives but even be fully tailored to each patient—'a perfect fit,' as Ms. Swartz puts it.
Readers are introduced to a couple who fall in love, marry, and then the husband feels ill. They disappear from the narrative till much later, when the husband receives an experimental device but succumbs to his illness four weeks later. After many promising attempts readers will wonder if there will ever be a viable, long-term artificial heart ... For fans of nonfiction with a little suspense and drama. Not recommended for animal lovers or people looking for a more academic treatment.