Robert Jarvik, born May 11, 1946 in Midland, Michigan, is a medical scientist and researcher, who played a large role in the invention of the artificial heart. He was born to Dr. Norman Jarvik and Edythe Koffler and was raised in Stamford, Connecticut. He was interested in both medicine and mechanics from a young age. He watched his father perform surgeries and before he graduated from high school had a patent for an automatic stapler for surgical procedures.
Jarvik attended Syracuse University and considered a career in art until his father developed heart disease. He decided then to pursue a medical career. With a bachelor’s degree in zoology, he applied to medical schools, but was not admitted to any in the U.S. He enrolled at the medical school of the University of Bologna in Italy and stayed there for two years. He returned to get a master’s degree in biomechanics from New York University in 1971.
After working for a time with a surgical supply house, Jarvik got a job in the artificial organs program at the University of Utah. He worked with the director of the program, Willem Kolff, who invented the kidney dialysis machine. Through this job, Jarvik was admitted to the university’s medical school and earned a degree in 1976.
By the time Jarvik came to Utah, the organs program had already developed preliminary artificial hearts. He improved upon it by creating a diaphragm made of polyurethane, which solved many issues with the heart. Eventually, he created the first artificial heart, the Jarvik-7, to be placed in a human patient.
Barney Clark, a retired dentist suffering from fatal heart disease, received the Jarvik-7 transplant on December 2, 1982. He lived for 112 days after the operation, but the transplant was considered a success. After receiving criticism for the expense and risk involved with transplanting an artificial heart, the Jarvik-7 became a temporary transplant for patients awaiting a human heart. In 1987, Jarvik moved to New York City and formed Jarvik Research Inc. He began developing a new heart, the Jarvik 2000. This smaller device fits inside a patients heart rather than replacing the entire organ.
In 2006, a widely televised advertisement for Lipitor staring Jarvik came under harsh criticism and investigation. Complaints were that Jarvik has never been a practicing medical doctor and that a body double was used in the ads for scenes of him rowing a boat. The commercial was pulled from the airwaves.