Mechanical Pump Could Mean the Difference Between Life and Death

A left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, is a mechanical pump which helps people whose hearts have been weakened from congestive heart failure (CHF). By pumping blood throughout the body more efficiently, this device can mean the difference between life and death for some patients. At Maimonides Medical Center, we use an LVAD known as the HeartMate II, which is currently the only device approved for use by the FDA. After it is implanted into the chest during surgery, the LVAD helps pump blood from the left side of the heart to the rest of the body.

The HeartMate II LVAD is designed to function as a long-term treatment for heart failure, and patients supported with this device have lived for many years after implantation. Patients with an LVAD can live at home and can carry out most, if not all, of their normal activities.

The HeartMate II LVAD is a pump that contains a single rotor which generates enough flow to deliver blood from the left ventricle to the rest of the body. For patients with heart failure, this flow can be two or three times the amount of flow that a weakened heart can generate. Because of this, the workload of the heart is essentially replaced by the LVAD, and patients feel a dramatic improvement in their CHF symptoms.

The LVAD pump is electrically powered, which means that it needs to be connected to a power source at all times. This is accomplished by means of a small silicone tube which exits the skin over the patient’s abdomen. This tube, or “driveline,” is connected to a controller that the patient wears on his or her belt.

Like any open heart surgery, LVAD implantation carries risks, including stroke, infection and bleeding. However, the risks of implantation have decreased significantly with the newer generation of LVADs, such as the HeartMate II.