New heart pump prolongs life for heart failure patients

By Brandi Cummings - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Former Vice President Dick Cheney has no pulse -- that's because of a new heart pump recently implanted. The small device allows for continuous blood flow through the heart.

Nearly 5 million people in the United States have congestive heart failure. Doctors estimate nearly half of those patients will be dead in 5 years.

"Most of these patients that have severe heart failure, their only option was a heart transplant," said Dr. Robert Zurcher, thoracic surgeon at Providence Hospital.

But for many of those patients, a transplant is not an option. That's because of the 250,000 people who need a heart, only about 2,000 donor hearts are available.

The new heart pump, known as the LVAD, or left ventricular assist device, is changing those odds.

"It's a new device, but the initial studies have been very favorable and the results are good," said Zurcher. "The other very nice thing about it is it's very small."

With a pump the size of a "D" battery, it is inserted along the heart and has one small electrical cable that exits the body to connect to power.

"Only recently have the devices become small enough and practical enough that they're used in a more frequent basis," said Zurcher.

Only 4,000 people are using the LVAD because it was just approved for the market this year. That means a longer life for patients like Cheney.

"The complication rate in this current device is the lowest of any of the devices so far," said Zurcher.

Although it's good for the body, one of the downsides to the LVAD is the fact that patients don't have a pulse. The blood flows continuously, unlike the normal beat of the heart. Pulse-less or not, a functioning heart leads to a functioning life.

Although there are people in the Midlands who are using the LVAD, the procedure to insert it is done only at MUSC in Charleston.

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