Heart failure kills 300,000 Americans each year. Now a device, which used to be a bridge to a heart transplant, is being used in some cases as a long-term solution.
Millions of Americans are living with failing hearts, and their numbers keep growing each year. It used to be the only option was a transplant, which left people at risk waiting for a heart.
“Often used as bridge therapy is what’s called a Left Ventricular Assist Device. You’ve heard about heart transplants and you heard perhaps a little bit about artificial hearts. There are a number of types of devices that are not actually artificial hearts but they’re external pumps that can improve the pumping function of the heart,” says Dr. Richard Chazal, a cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.
The pump that kept Vice President Dick Cheney's blood flowing while he waited for a heart transplant has seen a surge in popularity, a trend credited in part to the 71-year-old's successful 20 month stretch with the device.
“Increasingly in the United States, left ventricular assist devices are being used for longer periods of time. In the past they were used exclusively as a bridge therapy, but nowadays some people are having them for longer periods,” says Dr. Chazal.
The LVAD is a pump. One end hooks up to the left ventricle, the other end attaches to the aorta. A tube passes from the device through the skin. The controller and power pack remain outside the body.
Instead of being used strictly as a bridge therapy, LVADs are becoming a destination therapy, meaning patients can stay on them indefinitely. The option may give people with heart failure a new lease on life.
“Because they’re working so well that a heart transplant isn’t felt warranted or because it can be very hard to procure a heart for transplant,” says Dr. Chazal.
The left ventricular assist device is increasing survival and quality of life for people with failing hearts.