Heart failure

LVADs improve and extend the lives of patients with heart failure

heart illustration

“You may have six months to live.”

The words hit Rick Kurth like a ton of bricks.

Since 2004, the attorney from Danville, Illinois, had been managing a virus in the left ventricle of his heart. On March 23, 2022, Rick was in a hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana, and he believed he was going home after some tests.

Instead, doctors told the 72-year-old his heart was not pumping blood as it should. In other words, it was a failure. Worse, Rick says providers told him he wasn’t a candidate for a new heart.

So, after some initial skepticism and discussions with his wife Dianne, Rick accepted a new partner in his life – one with wires and batteries that would be with him every second of every day: a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

“A lot of times I forget I even have it on me,” laughs Rick, reflecting on the habit of the life-saving device. “That’s absolutely no problem.”

What is an LVAD?

Scott Cook, MDis a cardiothoracic surgeon at OSF HealthCare in Urbana, Illinois who has performed LVAD procedures in the past.

“What we’re doing is taking blood from their left ventricle and putting it back into their aorta,” says Dr Cook. “We circumvent the weak [part of the] heart.”

Some LVAD patients are expected to receive a heart transplant, so the device is temporary. Others, like Rick, are not transplant candidates, so the equipment would be permanent.

LVADs have limitations, especially around water. Swimming is probably out of the question. Returning to the shower is a conversation with your healthcare team. In Rick’s case, he took sponge baths for a while.

Getting back behind the wheel is also a process.

“At first, for several months after the device was put in place, [providers] I don’t want people driving until they’re cured and better,’ says Dr Cook.

“Most of these people lost their right to drive before the operation”, due to their weak condition, adds Dr Cook. “It’s about getting them back.”

Dr. Cook says the main concerns after an LVAD procedure are blood clots in the device and infection at the incision site. For the former, patients usually take an anticoagulant. For the latter, the patient must be vigilant about the change of dressings and the cleanliness of the site, which is generally a daily task.

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