It was 50 years ago today that a doctor implanted a temporary artificial heart in a patient – a pretty big leap forward in heart surgeries, given that transplants were only about a year old back then. Plus:  since April is National Donate Life Month, and the theme is “Life is a beautiful ride,”  complete with bicycles, the story of a very unusual kind of ride – a nearly naked backwards bike ride down a Florida highway.

Texas surgeon implanted world’s 1st artificial heart (Chicago Tribune)

National Donate Life Month (DonateLife.org)

Nearly nude Florida man rides bike backward on Miami Interstate (WTSP)

Today the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, turns 70. It’s the day that the US and its allies declared, mostly to the Soviet Union and its allies, that an attack against one of them would be considered an attack against all.

It’s also the anniversary of a big moment in medicine, 50 years ago today that a doctor implanted a temporary artificial heart in a patient.

The patient, Haskell Karp, needed a heart transplant but there wasn’t a donor heart available. The doctor, Denton Cooley, decided to use an artificial device a colleague had developed as a way to keep Karp alive until he could transplant a real heart.

It worked. Karp lived about 65 hours with the artificial device before dying of pneumonia, but the surgery was a big leap forward for cardiology, especially given that heart transplant surgeries were only about a year old.

Denton Cooley would continue to make advances in heart surgery. He went on to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984, and he also played upright bass in a swing band, appropriately called the Heartbeats.

One last story on Dr. Cooley: the story goes that he once had to testify in court, and the lawyer asked if he thought of himself as the best heart surgeon in the world. Yes, he answered. The lawyer asked, don’t you think that’s an immodest thing to say? Dr. Cooley replied, “Perhaps. But remember I’m under oath.”

Speaking of transplants, April is National Donate Life Month – encouraging people to sign up as organ, eye and tissue donors. This year’s theme is “Life is a beautiful ride,” with a bicycle as the icon.

Which reminded me of a story from the Miami Herald last month of a perhaps less than beautiful ride: a guy rode his bicycle down the interstate, backwards, wearing only hot pink socks and shoes, a headband and a pair of underwear.