Heart failure

New treatment for heart failure improves veterans’ quality of life

After seven years of battling chronic heart failure, veteran Michael Clayton is now literally up and running thanks to an innovative new procedure he received at the Michael E. DeBakey VA in Houston.

Michael Clayton, Army and Navy Veteran

Clayton was the first VA patient in the nation to undergo a new FDA-approved heart failure treatment called Cardiac Contractility Modulation (CCM) therapy. As a result, his heart beats faster, he has more energy, and he can work as a substitute teacher.

“Before having this new procedure, I had trouble staying awake,” said Clayton, an Arabian Gulf-era veteran from Alvin, Texas. “Now I’m back at work and exercising regularly. I feel like I’ve been given my life back.”

Clayton, 54, served two tours of Iraq in the Navy. After serving six more years in the Army National Guard, he worked as a truck driver when he suffered a heart attack in 2014. He came to Houston VA for lifesaving treatment, but battled the fatigue and lack of energy linked to heart failure since.

When his VA doctors suggested he might be a candidate for CCM therapy, Clayton was on board immediately. He noticed a huge difference a few days after the procedure.

“The difference between daylight and darkness.”

“After having this operation, I felt better physically and mentally,” he said. “My energy level has improved and I can think much more clearly. It’s like the difference between daylight and darkness.

Heart failure is a progressive disease in which the heart slowly weakens and is unable to supply enough oxygen-rich blood to the body. According to the American Heart Association, approximately 6.5 million Americans suffer from heart failure. Obesity and diabetes are key risk factors and their numbers are expected to increase significantly over the next decade.

“Even with optimal medications within guidelines, patients with heart failure often experience debilitating symptoms, such as shortness of breath and fatigue, that make daily activities difficult. It can significantly decrease their quality of life,” said Dr. Glenn Levine, Houston VA chief of cardiology and professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

CCM therapy, which involves minimally invasive surgery to implant a device into the heart, works by delivering precisely timed electrical impulses that allow more oxygen-rich blood to reach the body. Although somewhat similar in size and basic design to a pacemaker, CCM therapy is different in that it works on the strength of the heart’s contractions rather than its rhythm.

The device strengthens the heart rate over time

The device’s pulses, delivered at one-hour intervals five times a day, alter the heart muscle at the cellular level, strengthening the heart rate over time and reducing symptoms, including fatigue and shortness of breath.

Kenny Beam with the type of device implanted in his heart

Army veteran Kenneth Beam also underwent CCM therapy in Houston VA with equally positive results. After surviving a bout of cancer a few years ago, Beam started experiencing symptoms of heart failure and booked a cardiology appointment. On his way to the heart clinic for his appointment, he collapsed. VA staff rushed to her aid.

“The cancer damaged my heart and I just couldn’t breathe,” he said. “They threw me a code blue and saved my life.” Upon being discharged from the VA hospital after a few days, Beam continued to struggle with shortness of breath, fatigue, and lack of energy related to heart failure. Then he underwent CCM therapy.

“I already feel amazing.”

“Before having this procedure, it was difficult to breathe and I had to use my nebulizer four times a day,” said Beam, a Vietnam-era veteran from LaPorte, Texas. “Within a few weeks, I already feel amazing. My doctors tell me that I will get better and better every day. I can’t wait to get back out there and ride my bike again.

Dr. Hamid Afshar is an Electrophysiology Cardiologist and Professor at Baylor College of Medicine. He was thrilled to be one of the Houston VA doctors who performed the new CCM therapy on the two veterans.

“This new treatment can significantly improve the quality of life of our veterans,” Afshar said. “To see Mr. Clayton and Mr. Beam doing so much better after undergoing this procedure has been heartwarming for all of our staff. It is an excellent result.

CCM therapy improves the contraction of the heart. It can be used in conjunction with medications and other heart failure treatments.