Device helps heart failure patients when transplant unavailable

Right now, there are about five million people in America suffering from heart failure.

Many of them would benefit from a heart transplant, but because most of them are over 65, they're often not eligible for the operation. But now, doctors at Mayo Clinic are studying a device that is not only keeping people with heart failure alive longer, but it’s giving them a better quality of life.

After 76 years of music, end-stage heart failure has silenced Verna Schrombeck's piano.

"I could not sit at the piano. I was not healthy enough. I wasn't strong enough. And my fingers would not function."

Schrombeck says, "I was just in very, very serious condition."

But Verna is back at the keyboard, thanks to a device implanted at Mayo Clinic. It's called a ventricular assist device, or VAD.

"The VAD therapies are for a person who has an enlarged heart that doesn't contract well. It doesn't squeeze and pump blood to the rest of the body."

Cardiologist, Dr. Margaret Redfield teamed up with surgeon Soon John Park.

Mayo Clinic Surgeon Dr. Soon John Park says, “It's a heart assisting pump."

During open-heart surgery, Dr. Park implanted the device near Verna's heart. It's connected to the heart's main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, and to the main artery carrying blood out to the body.

A small wire extends outside of her body and hooks to an external battery pack. When turned on, the pump takes over much of her heart's work and delivers a continuous flow of blood to her body.

Dr. Park says, "It could effectively replace most of the heart function for people suffering from heart failure."

Schrombeck says, "I feel almost so normal that I want to get up and do things without remembering that I'm carrying this VAD equipment with me."

But Verna says carrying the battery pack, which she changes every five hours or so, is a small price to pay for life and music.

VAD therapy was used to keep people alive while they waited for a heart transplant, but now it's being studied for use as life-long therapy.

Dr. Park says the technology is relatively new, so they don't have long-term results, but there have been people on the device for seven and a half years.

For more information, visit MayoClinic.org.


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