Gary Onufer got an early Valentine's Day gift last Monday.

No, it wasn't flowers, chocolates or balloons.

It was a temporary heart.

Doctors at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania will hold a press conference today to discuss the surgery - the first time a patient in the Northeastern United States has received a temporary total artificial heart.

"He has a long journey ahead, but he has a very positive attitude," Gary's wife, Joan, said yesterday from their home in Ambler. He'll wait in the hospital for a donor heart, physicians said.

Onufer, 46, had been hospitalized with congestive heart failure caused by an enlarged heart, his wife said.

"His heart was failing," said Michael Acker, chief of cardiac surgery at HUP.

Rohinton Morris performed Onufer's surgery, which took about four hours, said Aker, who assisted in the surgery.

"We removed his old heart and inserted a Syncardia total artificial heart, which will replace his left and right ventricle," Acker said.

The temporary heart is used as a "bridge to transplant," according to Acker. Onufer must stay in the hospital, because the device needs a constant power source.

Onufer's heart had been in such bad shape that it could no longer pump enough blood to sustain his body, which damaged his vital organs, Morris said in a statement released yesterday.

"Our hope is that this artificial heart will keep him alive until he can get a suitable donor heart," Acker said.

Said Joan Onufer, "The whole thing is just amazing. The whole team was wonderful."

The Onufers, now of Ambler, had made settlement on a new house six days before Gary wound up in the hospital.

Anyone who would like to help the Onufers as they wait for Gary to get a new heart may send donations to:

The Gary Onufer Heart

Donation Fund

co Citizens Bank

Attn. Megan McCullough

824 E. Street Road

Warminster, PA 18974 *