Doctors with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City and Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines are touting the success of a relatively new device for heart patients who have run out of options. It’s call a left ventricular assist device or LVAD.
Sixty-eight-year-old John Hilding of Des Moines had advanced heart failure and had the LVAD installed this summer. “My life’s improved and now we’re talking about doing a little traveling next month,” Hilding said as he sat next to his wife, Sue, at a news conference Wednesday at Mercy Medical Center. The device is a bit bulky. Hilding pulled up his shirt to show reporters how a cord, connected to his heart, exits through his stomach and attaches to a control unit and battery pack.
Hilding, who was first diagnosed with heart failure in 2004, said his condition hit a low point earlier this year. “I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t do nothing hardly,” Hilding recalled. “I’m improving, I should be better off than I am, but the doctor says I’m great right now. I’ve got high hopes for myself.”
Doctor Chris Kassiotis, a cardiologist at the Iowa Heart Center at Mercy, said Hilding’s advanced congestive heart failure left him with few options. “We looked at the possibility for a heart transplant, but he did not qualify by the criteria that is set for a heart transplant. There’s the left ventricular device and really the only other option, because they’re having a lot of symptoms, is palliative care and hospice care,” Kassiotis said.
In most cases, an LVAD is used as a “bridge” for a patient until an organ becomes available for a heart transplant. But, in Hilding’s case, it’s used as “destination therapy” and is designed to improve and prolong his life.
Doctor Fran Johnson, director of advanced heart failure research and education at the University of Iowa, said the LVAD is much different than a pacemaker – particularly since it’s worn externally. “We are moving forward in battery technology and so when the devices are totally implantable and are miniaturized some more, it will become far less burdensome to a patient,” Johnson said. She expects such implantable LVADs will be tested at the University of Iowa within a few years.
Johnson said the LVAD procedure varies in cost, depending on a patient’s insurance, but it’s similar to the cost of a heart transplant.