A Stomach Implant Saved Me. When Your Organs Fail, You Could Become a Cyborg, Too

A Stomach Implant Saved Me. When Your Organs Fail, You Could Become a Cyborg, Too

Ordinary people are living better with chronic conditions thanks to a recent explosion of developments in medical implants.

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Beware, cyborgs walk among us. They’re mostly indistinguishable from regular humans and are infiltrating every nook and cranny of society. For full disclosure, I’m one myself. No, we’re not deadly intergalactic conquerors like the Borg race of Star Trek fame, just ordinary people living better with chronic conditions thanks to medical implants.

In recent years there has been an explosion of developments in implantable devices that merge multiple technologies into gadgets that work in concert with human physiology for the treatment of serious diseases. Pacemakers for the heart are the best-known implants, as well as other cardiac devices like LVADs (left-ventricular assist devices) and implanted defibrillators. Next-generation devices address an array of organ failures, and many are intended as permanent. The driving need behind this technology: a critical, persistent shortage of implantable biological organs.

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Eve Herold

Eve Herold is a science writer specializing in issues at the intersection of science and society. She has written and spoken extensively about stem cell research and regenerative medicine and the social and bioethical aspects of leading-edge medicine. Her 2007 book, Stem Cell Wars, was awarded a Commendation in Popular Medicine by the British Medical Association. Her 2016 book, Beyond Human, has been nominated for the Kirkus Prize in Nonfiction, and a forthcoming book, Robots and the Women Who Love Them, will be released in 2019.

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Heart model

Elaine Kamil had just returned home after a few days of business meetings in 2013 when she started having chest pains. At first Kamil, then 66, wasn't worried—she had had some chest pain before and recently went to a cardiologist to do a stress test, which was normal.

"I can't be having a heart attack because I just got checked," she thought, attributing the discomfort to stress and high demands of her job. A pediatric nephrologist at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, she takes care of critically ill children who are on dialysis or are kidney transplant patients. Supporting families through difficult times and answering calls at odd hours is part of her daily routine, and often leaves her exhausted.

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Lina Zeldovich
Lina Zeldovich has written about science, medicine and technology for Scientific American, Reader’s Digest, Mosaic Science and other publications. She’s an alumna of Columbia University School of Journalism and the author of the upcoming book, The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste into Wealth, from Chicago University Press. You can find her on http://linazeldovich.com/ and @linazeldovich.