Posts Tagged ‘VAD’

A Very Special Thanksgiving For Sean Dookwah

It’s been a busy last few weeks at the Emory Heart & Vascular Center. Earlier in November, we shared with you a story of a recent milestone for our Heart & Vascular program when Emory physicians completed their 200th Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement. Milestones such as this one have tremendous implications for our patient community. We are consistently putting into practice innovative technology that means longer, fuller lives for our patients. For Sean Dookwah, from Athens, Georgia, this notion rings especially true this holiday season. Sean will be able to enjoy his first Thanksgiving holiday with a new lease on life after Emory physicians implanted his new ventricular assist heart device at Emory University Hospital. Sean’s VAD implant was the 100th such procedure performed at Emory.

The first ventricular assist device was implanted in Georgia at Emory in 2006 as a form of destination therapy (in place of a donor transplant) for individuals who are not eligible for–or unable to undergo–a heart transplant. Ventricular assist devices are battery-operated mechanical pumps that help a weakened heart pump blood throughout the body. They are most commonly used as a bridge to transplant for those whose medical therapy has failed and who are hospitalized with end-stage heart failure. More recently, the VAD is providing an alternative to transplant. VADs allow a near normal quality of life, with most patients returning home with their families while they wait for a donor heart to become available.

Sean Dookwah, Emory Patient

Sean Dookwah at Emory University Hospital

Sean, who is 39 years old, began his journey to receiving his ventricular assist device and returning home to his family just two years ago. He had spent years as a construction worker, which kept him fairly active and fit. But after pursuing an office-based career in IT, Sean fell into a more sedentary lifestyle, which included lack of exercise, poor eating habits, long, stressful hours, all accompanied by a 20-year smoking habit.

It was in 2009 that Sean began to feel weak and ill enough to justify a visit to his local emergency room in Athens. “I felt weak, tired, sick, terrible. I was not having a heart attack, but it was there that I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, which is basically a weakening of my heart. That was a wake-up call,” says Sean.

After receiving the news, Sean moved in with his family and immediately adopted a healthier lifestyle, which included exercise, healthier eating, and dropping the smoking habit. Within about 18 months he dropped almost 150 pounds – from 480 to a current 330 pounds. He attributes much of his success in turning around his lifestyle to his friends and family.

“My friends and family have been incredible help and an inspiration to me – helping to keep me encouraged and on track, and some of my friends have even quit smoking themselves – both for me and them. I hope to eventually be added to a heart transplant list, but I have some work to do to still lose weight and get down to a healthier frame.”

And after his successful ventricular assist device implantation just a few days ago, Sean is eager to return home to his family for the the Thanksgiving Holiday and continue making healthy progress and enjoy his already drastically improved health. “I feel incredible compared to where I was just a few weeks ago. I was so tired and weak I couldn’t walk from one part of the room to the other,” Sean says. “Today, I feel alert, strong, healthy and like I could run a marathon. It’s amazing, and I am definitely thankful for everyone who made this possible for me – from the doctors and nurses at Emory – to my friends and family. I can’t wait to get home.”

It is milestones like our 100th VAD implant and stories such as Sean’s that make us especially thankful for the positive impact our team is able to have on our community. “Until fairly recently, surgeons have been implanting VADs as a temporary bridge to heart transplantation. We now have the ability to also offer those patients who are unable to undergo a heart transplant to dramatically improve the quality with what we refer to as destination therapy – meaning the device will stay with the patient indefinitely,” remarks David Vega, MD, professor of surgery and director of the heart transplant program in the Emory Transplant Center.

“This technology offers new hope and a much greater quality of life. And with more than five million Americans who suffer from congestive heart failure, with another half million diagnosed each year, this device is a viable, and often-times live-saving – option for our patients,” Vega continued.

Sean will be released for home today, one day before Thanksgiving and just a few days after his procedure, where he will join his family and friends for what very likely will be the most thankful of holidays.

We too are thankful to have the opportunity to improve the lives of people like Sean. And for those of us that are part of the Emory team, but are not in clinical roles, we are tremendously grateful for and appreciative of our researchers and care teams who make saving lives like Sean’s possible.

Happy holidays everyone.

Heart Transplant Patient Success Story

Dr. Vega, Emory Heart and VascularHerbert Grable was diagnosed in 2000 with congestive heart failure. When he was diagnosed, it came as a shock and he was scared. He didn’t know what caused his heart to fail and he didn’t know what heart failure treatments were available for him. He was very grateful to have the Emory Heart & Vascular Center near his home, as it offered a unique treatment for patients who are not candidates or can’t get a heart transplant right away – called Ventricular Assist Devices (VAD).

As we have discussed in previous blogs, a VAD is a mechanical device that is implanted in the heart. This pump takes over the function for the ventricle and circulates blood to the rest of the body. The goal of a VAD is to improve a patient’s survival and quality of life while they wait for a transplant (if they are a candidate for a transplant). The number of heart failure patients is tremendous, and with the number of transplants regulated per year at around 2,500 the VAD is another option for non-transplantable candidates as well.

After receiving the VAD, Herbert smiled and joked that he felt like himself again. His wife commented that the she got the “old Herbert back.” After eight months with the VAD, Herbert was again upgraded to the transplant list. One week later, he received the call  from Emory Transplant Center that a heart was available for him. Before transplant, Herbert was scared but he had faith in Emory and was determined that everything would work out. His wife was hopeful and optimistic that Herbert would be with her for many more years and would possibly see some grand kids one day.

Transplants are complex procedures. Emory transplant physicians are experts in their field and aware of all possible nuances that occur with each individual transplant patient. Should an unusual complication arise during a transplant experience, Emory has the skill to reach the most optimal outcome for a patient.

After Herbert received the heart transplant, he was able to live a normal lifestyle and do everything he always did before he was diagnosed with heart failure. He sums up his care “Emory is not just hospital, they care about the patient as well. I am so glad to have a place like Emory to treat me for this condition.”

For more information about heart transplant after the VAD procedure, watch this video:

About Dr. Vega

Dr. David Vega is a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Emory Heart & Vascular Center and the Director of Emory’s Heart Transplant program at Emory University Hospital. He implanted Georgia’s first dual pump ventricular assist device (VAD) in 1999 to serve as a bridge to heart transplantation, a procedure that initiated Emory’s ongoing national position at the forefront of the use of mechanical circulatory assist devices. In 2006, he implanted the state’s first VAD as a form of destination therapy for individuals who are ineligible for or are unwilling to undergo a heart transplant, and in 2007 he implanted an even smaller VAD for the same purpose that featured an automatic speed control mode designed to regulate pumping activity based on different levels of patient or cardiac activity.

Exploring VAD Therapy

In this video, I go into more detail about VAD therapy and show you an actual VAD device:

Ventricular Assist Devices: Hope for the Broken-Hearted

HeartMate II® LVAD; reprinted with permission from Thoratec Corporation

Many of you are aware of the benefits of heart transplant in patients with advanced heart failure; however, another form of therapy has been quietly emerging as a viable option for patients suffering from this condition.

A ventricular assist device (VAD) is a battery-operated mechanical pump that helps a weakened heart pump blood into the body. Essentially, it takes over the pumping action of the heart and drives blood into the aorta (the large artery that extends from the left ventricle of the heart and into the abdomen) and throughout the body. The device resides both inside and outside of the body, and is operated by an electric motor powered by a battery pack. The controller and batteries are typically worn over the shoulder or around the waist.

In most cases, VADs offer a short-term solution for patients awaiting a suitable donor for a heart transplant, particularly if their medical therapy has failed or if they’ve been hospitalized with end-stage heart failure. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, over 2,900 Americans are currently awaiting a heart transplant (43 of which are in Georgia).

However, in some cases patients turn to VADs as an alternative to a heart transplant. We refer to this as ‘destination therapy’, meaning that the LVAD serves as a permanent solution for patients with advanced heart failure. Patients who are not heart transplant candidates but who have severe heart failure often pursue this course of treatment.

Ventricular Assist Devices support the left ventricle (LVAD), the right ventricle (RVAD) or both simultaneously (biventricular, or BiVAD). LVADs are used most commonly, and have been in existence for over twenty-five years.

A recent study comparing a new generation LVAD to an older model showed a marked improvement in survival at 2 years (58% vs 25%). In addition, patients reported an improved quality of life. As a result the FDA approved the Heartmate II as destination therapy for patients with end-stage heart failure.

Despite the severity of their illnesses, 70-80% of LVAD patients survive to transplantation.

There are several different types of LVADs, and I’ll go into more detail about specific devices and technology that the Emory Heart and Vascular Center utilizes in a later post. You’ll also hear from two very special patients who have been kind enough to share their stories with us.

Do you have any questions or thoughts about VAD technology or heart conditions in general? If so, please share them with me in the comments.

About Sonjoy Laskar, MD:

Dr. Laskar joined Emory Healthcare in 2005 and has devoted his career to providing direct care to patients with heart failure, heart transplantation and ventricular assist devices, as well as to teaching residents and fellows. He is an active researcher in the areas of echocardiography and ventricular assist devices as destination therapy, and is a member of the American College of Cardiology, Heart Failure Society of America and the International Society of Heart and Lung Transplantation.