On July 29, a team from Emory’s Heart and Vascular Center completed its 500th continuous flow, durable left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implantation. This year alone, surgeons from Emory’s advanced heart failure team had implanted almost 60 devices by August, a number that has continued to climb steadily since.
The ventricular assist device, which was first used in the 1960s, supplies mechanical circulatory support by pumping blood from the ventricles, or lower chambers of the heart, to the rest of the body. When a patient’s heart has gone into end-stage failure, but they don’t qualify for a transplant, or if it will take too much time to get a transplant, an LVAD provides an alternative course of action that often makes the difference between life and death.
Cardiothoracic surgeon Tamer Attia, MD, PhD, says the process of first determining that an LVAD is the patient’s best option requires a collaborative effort among a wide variety of specialties and skill sets. That multidisciplinary team of 30-40 medical professionals encompasses surgeons, transplant cardiologists, VAD coordinators, pharmacists, nutritionists, social workers, infectious disease experts and palliative care specialists — all to evaluate the best course of action for an extremely sick patient.
Depending on how dire the patient’s situation is, the operation, which can take 5-7 hours, may occur within days of admission to the hospital with heart failure symptoms. As with any surgery, there are risks, such as the potential for stroke or infections. But around 90% of the patients are alive one year later and most do well, Attia says in a recent statement for Emory University.