The Amazing Human Heart
By Serge Geffrard, MD
The Muscle That Never Get Tired
The human heart is one of the most complex organs of the body. The heart is the central component of the circulatory system whose purpose is to provide oxygen, glucose, protein, carbohydrates to the various organs of the body while simultaneously removing cellular waste. In elementary school, we learn that the heart is a pump whose major components are specialized muscle cells which are constantly contracting and relaxing but never get tired. Simply put, the heart is a complex group of muscles which are constantly doing push-ups but never get tired. As a pediatric cardiologist, I am in awe whenever I think of this organ, which is the size of our fist, is always beating and never get tired. Just for fun, try to do some push-ups and record how many you can do before you get tired!!!
Before We Were Born: The Heart In Utero
When my wife was pregnant with our children and we went to the doctor, one the most memorable and bonding experiences for us was hearing the heart beats of our little ones. I still get chills remembering those days. During pregnancy, the heart begins to beat at about 21 days after conception. I am still intrigued at how a group of muscle cells spontaneously begin to beat. What tell those cells to suddenly and synchronously start beating at 160 beats per minute?
Most scientists agree that the heart/circulatory system is the first functioning organ system of the body as its primary purpose is to supply blood flow to other organ systems so that the baby can grow and develop.
The development of the human heart in utero is beyond human comprehension. To me, it is truly a miracle. I would even argue that it is on the same scale as some of the miracles we have read about in in the bible such as parting of the red sea or stopping of the solar system.
Having had the opportunity to care for children with congenital heart defects and having received training in cardiac embryology (prenatal heart development), I am amazed at the fragility of the process and how precise every single step has to be in order for the heart to develop normally. For example, one the first steps during development of the heart prenatally is rotation of the heart to place it in its proper axis. This is known as cardiac looping to pediatric cardiologists and occurs at about 24-28 days after conception. If this simple rotation process occurs the wrong way (The heart rotates to the left as opposed to the right), the baby will be born with major congenital heart defects and most likely will need open heart surgery. In order words, instead of rotating the right, if the heart rotates to the left, the baby will be born with major congenital heat defects. This one example of the thousands of processes that have to proceed the proper way for a baby to be born with a healthy heart.
The Numbers Are Amazing
From the time it begins to beat, three weeks after conception, to the time of delivery (39 weeks), the heart of a human fetus beats an average of 140 beats/minute, 8400 beats/hour, 201,600 beats/day for 252 days, (Assuming the baby is born full-term 39 weeks). So, if we do the simple math and multiply 201,600 x 252, the heart of a human fetus beats about 50 million times before delivery. In other words, our heart beats about 50 million times before we take our first breath and never gets tired. Wow!!!
The Human Body Reveals The Glory of God, Our Creator
Earlier, I mentioned that the human heart is a miracle comparable to some of the biblical miracles we have read or heard about. Now, think about this for a second: This is just one organ. Scientists have estimated that there are about 80 organs or organ-sytems in the human body and all of them are complex. And all of them have to work together. To return to my point earlier, I would argue that the human body is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, miracles we have ever seen or heard about. To me, the complexity of the whole human body is a constant reminder of how great is the creator of the universe. Yes, God's creation and handiwork are amazing.
All the things that I mentioned above about the human heart and human body are fascinating and intellectually challenging. However, we would miss the point if we don't realize the greatness and majesty of our creator. The human heart and body reveal the splendor and the glory of God and are constant reminders that we were fearfully and wonderfully made.
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
Psalms 139: 13-16