Left Ventricular Assist Device
What is an LVAD?
The purpose of the left ventricular assist device (LVAD) is to improve quality of life for patients with heart failure by helping the heart pump blood to the rest of the body. By increasing blood flow to other organs, the function of these organs may improve and reduce symptoms of heart failure. The pump is implanted behind the ribs and attaches to the left ventricle of the heart, which requires open heart surgery. LVAD can be used to sustain a patient while they await heart transplant (bridge to transplant) or to prolong life for those who are not eligible for transplant (destination therapy).
How does the LVAD work?
The LVAD has a tube that pulls blood from the left ventricle — the heart’s main pumping chamber — into a pump. The pump sends the blood to the aorta, the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Another tube goes from the pump to the outside of the body through the skin of your abdomen. The external and wearable portion of the LVAD contains the batteries and a controller worn under or on top of clothing.
Parts of the LVAD
The LVAD has four components:
- Implantable pump – the pump is attached to the heart and acts as a vacuum to empty the left ventricle and push blood through the pump into the aorta.
- Controller – small handheld computer that controls the pump and communicates alarms and battery life to the patient.
- Driveline – a cord that will exit the body from the abdomen to connect the internal pump to the controller on the outside of the body, there is a gauze dressing that covers this site.
- Electrical supply – a power source, either batteries or a cord, connect to the controller to provide power to the pump.
Who can use an LVAD?
LVAD candidates are patients that are in a stage of heart failure where they can no longer be managed with medication, lifestyle changes or other therapies but they are still strong enough.
What can I Expect Before and During an LVAD Implantation?
To ensure that LVAD is the best treatment option for a patient, a complete evaluation is done that includes many tests and procedures. Patients under evaluation meet with physicians and many other LVAD team members. This team works together to determine the right treatment for each patient. This may include LVAD, transplant evaluation, or continued medical management. During this process, patients receive detailed education on risks, benefits, and how to manage living with an LVAD.
Surgery to implant an LVAD takes approximately four to eight hours. During the procedure, an incision is made to the sternum to access the heart. Patients are placed on a heart and lung bypass machine while the device is implanted by a cardiac surgeon. Once the LVAD is implanted and functioning as it should, the patient is removed from bypass. They are then taken to the Intensive Care Unit to be closely monitored for several days. Patients will later be moved to The Woody Stewart Heart Failure Treatment Unit to complete recovery prior to discharge.
Patients typically stay in the hospital two to four weeks for close monitoring and recovery after surgery. During this time, patients learn how to manage their LVAD at home.
What are the benefits of an LVAD?
LVADs help patients with heart failure lead more active lives. Since an LVAD is designed to restore blood flow throughout your body, you may experience:
- easier breathing
- enhanced quality of life that makes it easier for you to resume activities such as work, school and social activities
- improved organ function and reduced heart failure symptoms
- increased ability to undergo cardiac rehabilitation
- less fatigue
What are the risks associated with an LVAD?
Getting an LVAD comes with risks associated with any major surgery and general anesthesia. In addition to those, some of the most common risks include:
- abnormal heartbeat
- internal bleeding
- kidney function problems
- major infection
- right heart failure
What is recovery like after an LVAD?
After leaving the hospital, patients have regular checkups with the LVAD care team and medications are closely monitored. Most importantly, once recovery is complete, patients are able to return to many of the activities that they previously enjoyed.
What is life like with an LVAD?
Research shows that most patients experience an improved quality of life after an LVAD implant. Many patients:
- Resume activities they were unable to perform prior to the implant
- Experience improved mobility
- Experience less symptom distress
As patients adjust to living with an LVAD, they should expect some guidelines. For example:
- Do not get an MRI
- Do not go swimming, use a hot tub, or take a bath
- Do not participate in any water sports or contact sports
- Be prepared for power outages by having back-up batteries charged in advance
Why choose NGMC for your LVAD implant?
- The Heart Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center offers a specialized Heart Failure clinic with physicians who are fellowship-trained in advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology. The providers possess extensive medical training for cardiovascular care.
- Woody Stewart Heart Failure Unit- Our 16-bed unit is designed for patient and family comfort and is staffed with specially trained staff.
- Experienced Cardiac Surgeon, Kyle Thompson, MD, has been implanting LVAD since 2010
- Latest technology – we are utilizing the most advanced LVAD technology on the market – the HeartMate 3 heart pump. Learn more about Heartmate 3.
- One of few Credentialed VAD Facilities in Georgia- Certified by DNV-GL
Learn how the LVAD Implant Changed the Life of One of Our Patients
Questions about LVAD?
If you'd like more information about LVAD options or want to find out whether you're a candidate for LVAD, please call our LVAD educator at 770-219-4663.