Thanks to an unprecedented medical procedure, in March of 2011 a terminally ill man with no heart and no pulse left the hospital he was supposed to die in and returned home with his wife. Heart Stop Beating is a short documentary about the two heart surgeons that made that medical miracle possible.
The should-have-been-dead man in question, a one Craig Lewis, had a rare blood disorder that was causing chronic organ failure that would lead to his inevitable death within a matter hours. In the face of such a dismal forecast, Lewis volunteered himself for a brave new treatment: He allowed two heart surgeons, Dr. Billy Cohn and Dr. Bud Frazier, to cut out his heart completely and replace it with a centrifugal pump. Unlike other artificial hearts, which assist the original organs muscular heartbeat, this new invention replaced his organ entirely, continuously circulating blood throughout Mr. Lewis' body with the hope the constant flow would prevent the build-up of the protein that was killing him. The life-saving procedure clinically killed him, however, since by legal definition the very much alive Lewis' flatline EKG and total lack of pulse classified him as a dead man.
Emmy-nominated filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar made a short film documenting the procedure and the frontiers Drs. Cohn and Frazier braved in the process. The film, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, is only three-and-a-half minutes long, but it's a gripping and chilling look at the fragile state of the human body contrasted with the tenacity of the human spirit. Sadly, though the beatless heart gave him five more weeks with his family, Lewis' did ultimately succumb to his blood disorder.
Warning, if you get squeamish at the sight of open-cavity surgery, you won't make it far into Heart Stop Beating.