Local News

Implanted Pump Gives Heart Patients New Freedom

Posted August 17, 2005 4:36 a.m. EDT

— With congestive heart failure, the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Mechanical pumps can help the heart to do its job, but until recently, the bulky machines limited patients' freedom, but that may soon change.

In July, 53-year-old Ronnie Mull got a second heartbeat. It's the mechanical clicking sound of a new implanted pump called a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD). Before the surgery to implant VAD, Ronnie's congestive heart failure robbed him of the active life he once enjoyed.

"I'd get tired real quick. I'd get short of breath real quick, and my energy level dropped," he said.

The VAD implant does what Ronnie's heart alone could not do. Electrical impulses pull blood from the weakened heart's left ventricle, through the pump and to the aorta, which feeds the whole body. Connected by a cable through the skin, an external computer is the brain. It matches the pump rate to the patient's activity level.

Mull spent a month in the hospital after surgery learning how to use the equipment. It operates from an electrical outlet or with small batteries that give him five hours of freedom to go almost anywhere. Now, he said he has the energy to do it.

"Now that I've got this, I can breathe a whole lot better. I can walk a whole lot farther." he said.

Mull is the first patient at UNC Hospitals to enroll in a clinical trial comparing the effectiveness of two different types of pump implants.

Cardiac surgeon Dr. Brett Sheridan does not make any promises for how long it will work.

"The one thing we do know is, currently, the device allows you to live longer, with a better quality of life than if we just put Mr. Mull primarily on medications alone," he said.

However long it works for Mull, he plans to use the time doing more of what he loves.

"Probably do a little bit of fishing," he said.

Patients enrolled in the clinical trial are not candidates for heart transplants. However, officials said the devices do offer some patients with congestive heart failure a longer and better quality of life while they wait for a heart transplant.