How long could you live with your heart outside your chest? For Christopher Wall it’s 34 years and counting. Having just celebrated his birthday on Monday, August 10th, Chris was recently featured on ABC news. Follow the link and check out his amazing story, and see some incredible footage of Chris in action at the end of this post.
Formally, Chris Wall has Ectopia cordis, a condition where his heart was formed outside the chest cavity before birth. Doctors were unable to reposition the organ back inside the chest cavity, and so skin was stretched over the heart instead. With a breastbone grafted from his leg, Chris is able to breathe without a respirator – a feat he couldn’t accomplish as an infant. Few are born with Ectopia cordis (5 or 6 per million) and as testified to in the Guinness Book of World Records, no one has ever lived as long with the condition.
But what does this mean for the rest of us, besides being a heart-warming story of Mr. Wall’s will to live? His survival points to a trend in medical understanding. Ray Kurweil, Singularity expert, points out that many important growth curves are actually exponential, not linear. During the early slow climb, it may not look like much is happening, but the background is building that will produce an explosion in advancement.
Looking at the medical improvements between 1975 (the year Chris was born) and today, little may have seemed to change. Amazing developments in surgery have occurred, but people with Ectopia cordis are often treated just as Chris was: try to re-insert the heart…fail…cover with skin. Yet, the skill of robotic surgeons, the advancement in artificial organ growth, and the general survivability Chris displays all indicate that we are ending the slow growth phase of the exponential curve. Factors are in place, the explosion may be coming soon.