Technology Brings New Hope for People With Heart Failure

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Marian Anderfuren:

June  7, 2010 — An acute cardiomyopathy sends a new mom to the brink of death. A Redskins fan with heart failure is sidelined by his illness. A heart condition keeps a hunting enthusiast from the activity he loves most.

What all three of these patients seen at the University of Virginia Health System have in common is the Thoratec HeartMateII Left Ventricular Assist System, or LVAS. The device has been approved by the FDA for long-term support of people with advanced heart failure.

The U.Va. Health System is now a certified destination therapy site for the use of the device. Today, the new mom is enjoying her baby, the Redskins fan is back to tailgating during the NFL season and the hunter is back to enjoying the outdoors.
"This latest iteration of the HeartMate LVAS is much smaller and is a good fit for more people, such as teens and those with small adult statures," said Dr. John Kern, associate professor of surgery in the Division of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. "It's exciting because it brings new hope to untold numbers of people slowly dying from heart failure."

Heart failure can stem from the culmination of more than 50 different types of heart conditions affecting various areas, including: heart chambers, heart valves, coronary arteries, the heart's electrical system, the heart's lining and the heart muscle itself. The LVAS is a pump that restores the normal circulation of blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. It has helped severely incapacitated people resume their normal lives.
"Before, LVAS was a bridge to heart transplantation, but there are limited numbers of available hearts and not all people are good candidates to receive a donation," Kern said. "Now, we can prolong the lives of people with heart failure by two to five years and perhaps even longer."
As a certified destination therapy site, U.Va. provides LVAS patients with the best-coordinated care possible from a team of physicians, surgeons, nurses, and clinical and social work practitioners. Last fall, the heart failure team at U.Va. Health System anticipated the direction in which LVAS devices were moving and sought accreditation from the Joint Commission, which provides advanced certification for ventricular assist devices for destination therapy. These steps are only the beginning, according to Kern.
"Now we can continue to acquire data and knowledge about the device and witness the real-world implications for the 500,000 Americans who are diagnosed with heart failure each year. It can only get better from here."