NEWARK—Robert Drummond of Hillside lost count of the number of times his heart stopped. Pacemakers, defibrillators, medications and hope were not enough to keep his heart beating while he waited for a transplant. Now, an extraordinary new heart pump is bridging that gap.
Drummond is the first in New Jeresy and only the 17th in the United States to rely on a small, quiet, implantable electromagnetic pump to circulate blood throughout his body. This ventricular assist device (VAD), known as the DuraHeart, is the most technologically advanced heart pump available in the United States and the Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center is only the fourth program in the country to implant it.
More than 6,000 VADs have been implanted in the United States and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center is one of the nation’s most experienced and active implant centers. Since they implanted NJs first VAD in 1993, cardiologists and cardiac surgeons at the Saint Barnabas Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel continue to advance research in the field and broaden use of the devices. Experts from other heart centers in the region come to Newark Beth Israel to receive training and gain competence in the use of a variety of VADs.
“Once reserved as a treatment of last resort for people with end-stage heart failure, the latest generation of pumps is enhancing the quality of life for people with less severe heart failure,” explained Mark J. Zucker, MD, JD, Director of Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant at the Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center who has been involved with the application of mechanical assist devices since the 1980s. “Potentially, more than 40,000 Americans will need a heart transplant and only about 2,500 donor hearts are available each year. We are compelled to explore alternative treatments for advanced heart failure.”
Drummond’s small, silent DuraHeart is a stark contrast to the first clunky heart pumps that whirred and ticked and rarely lasted for more than several months. Weighing nearly four pounds, the early devices were so big that they were only suitable for patients with a large frame, which excluded most women from this treatment option. Furthermore, their complex function and maintenance often kept patients hospitalized for as long as the pump remained implanted.
In contrast, Drummond was released from the hospital within a couple of weeks and he described his DuraHeart as user-friendly. “There really isn’t much to do, I just have to know how and when to change the batteries,” he said. The DuraHeart represents several leaps forward in heart pump technology. For example, the two moving parts that comprise the three-inch-diameter pump are separated by electromagnetic levitation that eliminates mechanical friction and prevents damage to delicate blood cells as they flow through the pump. The DuraHeart even has the capability to speed up or slow down in response to the body’s changing activity level and the native heart’s ability to carry the load.
The newest VADs can be a bridge to transplant or provide therapy for people who are not eligible for a transplant. “Mechanical circulatory assist devices have advanced so dramatically in the last two decades that the field of cardiology is seeing a rapid expansion of this therapy,” said Margarita Camacho, MD, Surgical Director of Cardiac Transplant and Assist Devices, Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
Dr. Camacho chairs the Society of Thoracic Surgeons national Workforce on the Surgical Treatment of End Stage Cardiopulmonary Disease and is spearheading simulated computer VAD training. “Today’s VADs can function for up to three to five years and perhaps longer while people resume active lives at home,” she noted.
Drummond’s heart pump represents a triumph of two decades of medical research, yet for him it is simply another step in his journey to a heart transplant. “I want to be here longer for my family,” he remarked. As he adjusts to life with a high-tech VAD, Drummond dreams about one day being able to shoot hoops in the yard with his grandchildren.
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