Ventricular Assist Device
A ventricular assist device (VAD) is a mechanical device (“heart pump”) that circulates blood throughout the body when the heart is too weak to pump blood on its own. A small electric motor inside the VAD drives the pump. A left ventricular assist device (LVAD or LVAS) pulls blood from the left ventricle and delivers the blood to the aorta and then out to the rest of the body.
Experts in VAD Technology and Surgery Northwestern
Memorial supports patients with the most current VAD research and technology. We are fully approved by Medicare the Joint Commission on VADs to perform bridge therapy (to safely support a patient to a heart transplant) or destination therapy (for patients ineligible for heart transplant).
Northwestern Memorial’s Center for Heart Failure at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is led by Allen S. Anderson, MD and Duc Thinh Pham, MD. Dr. Anderson is a cardiologist, medical director of the Center for Heart Failure and the medical director of Heart Transplantation and Mechanical Assistance. He is responsible for pre- and post-operative patient management both in the hospital and at home. Dr. Pham is a cardiothoracic surgeon, surgical director of the Center for Heart Failure and the surgical director of Heart Transplantation and Mechanical Assistance. Dr. Pham has extensive experience in both ventricular assist devices and heart transplantation, and is responsible for post-operative patient management.
VAD implantation at Northwestern Memorial is performed by highly skilled cardiac surgeons with extensive experience in this specialty. Surgeons work as a team with cardiologists, nurses and other staff who coordinate in-hospital care and outpatient management. We have a dedicated VAD clinic that coordinates outpatient VAD management.
Three Parts of a VAD
A small electronic computer controller regulates the three parts of the VAD that make the pump work.
VADs are designed to restore blood flow throughout the body, enabling patients to breathe more easily and feel less fatigued. With a VAD, your organs will receive more blood than they did before surgery, which will likely improve their function.
After receiving a VAD, patients generally feel more energetic and can resume normal activities. Many patients are able to return to work and resume hobbies they haven’t been able to do for years.
The VAD Implantation Procedure
Implantation of a VAD is major heart surgery, and requires a strong commitment on both the patient and the care team. Some patients find the concept scary or intimidating, but through the Center for Heart Failure team, you will have full support through every step of the VAD implantation process and post-surgical care..
Before surgery, we will perform extensive evaluations so we may tailor your surgical experience according to your specific risk factors and needs.
A cardiac surgeon will implant your VAD during a four- to six-your surgical procedure, during which you will receive general anesthesia. As with any surgical procedure, there are risks; your doctor will talk with you about your specific risks and steps taken to minimize them.
After the VAD is implanted, most patients spend as many as five days in the intensive care unit. You may stay in the hospital anywhere from two to eight weeks after the pump is implanted. During this time you and your family will learn how to care for your VAD.
Will a VAD Improve Your Heart Function?
VADs can help many people with advanced-stage heart failure—people who are failing conventional therapy and have been told they don't have many options.
How Long Will My VAD Last?
The amount of time a VAD will provide support to your heart varies, depending on a few factors:
Often, patients can experience support from the current generation of VADs for up to 10 years.
Returning Home and Caring For Your VAD
After surgery, our team will help you learn to care for your VAD. We offer a detailed education program for you and your caregivers to ensure safety and proper use of the device. You’ll learn how to manage the device and troubleshoot potential emergency situations.
The length of recovery time is highly variable, but it generally takes a few weeks to recuperate from the implantation procedure. To some extent, recovery will depend on your physical condition before surgery.
You will return to our clinic for regular check-ups to monitor VAD function and your overall health. The vast majority of VAD recipients feel better after surgery—especially those who commit to a lifelong self-care program that improves their diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors.
Types of VAD available at Northwestern Memorial
The Heartware® is a small implantable VAD, which uses magnetic forces to spin a rotor and create blood flow. This design is expected to provide long-term support. Similar to other implantable continuous flow devices, it has a small electrical lead that exits the skin and attaches to an external controller and AC or DC power.
The HeartWare provides patients with a high degree of mobility, being implanted above the diaphragm. It is currently in clinical investigations for use in bridge to transplantation and destination therapy. This VAD is the smallest full-support device available and can be configured to support both ventricles (the two pumping chambers of the heart).
The Heartmate® II is a continuous flow small implanted pump, about the size of a “D” battery, used as an LVAD. The Heartmate II® is FDA approved as a bridge to transplantation and destination therapy. It is the smallest FDA approved LVAD and is suitable for women and patients with smaller body size.
Patients with advanced heart failure that have exhausted the limitations of medical therapies may be candidates to receive a VAD. For more information, please contact the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 312-NM-HEART (664-3278) or request a first time appointment online.
For more information regarding clinical trials related to heart failure, please visit the Clinical Trials Unit of Northwestern, send an email or call 312-926-4000.