Web Exclusive – Saint Thomas Hospital, a member of Saint Thomas Health and a national leader in cardiac care, recently announced the opening of the Saint Thomas Heart Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) Center. The center, which is one of only 33 dedicated VAD centers in the United States, will meet the needs of the sickest heart failure patients in middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky.
A ventricular assist device (VAD) pumps blood from the main pumping chamber of the heart (the left ventricle) to the rest of the body. In 2011, 25 patients with advanced heart failure received a VAD at Saint Thomas Hospital, which outpaced all other Tennessee hospitals in the number of VAD implants.
Today, the hospital is the region’s only local provider to offer the newest battery operated “heart pump” as a life-saving permanent solution to treat congestive heart failure. In August 2010, Saint Thomas Hospital became the first in Middle Tennessee to earn certification from The Joint Commission for ventricular assist devices and destination therapy.
“Saint Thomas Hospital has been Middle Tennessee’s cardiac leader for more than 30 years,” said Dawn Rudolph, president and CEO of Saint Thomas Hospital. “We are continuing that tradition by offering new therapies like VAD and are seeing very positive results with it as a destination therapy program. As assess the changing needs of our cardiac patients and more than doubled our growth in VAD implants in just one year, we have decided to launch the Saint Thomas Heart VAD Center.”
The number of people waiting for heart transplants continues to increase but each year only about 2,000 heart transplants are done in the United States. In January 2010, the FDA approved the VAD for destination therapy – a life-saving permanent solution for patients who don’t want or aren’t’ candidates for heart transplant.
“The number of people with advanced heart failure in need of help is so much larger than the number of hearts available,” said Dr. Mark Tedder, a cardiothoracic surgeon and surgical director of mechanical circulatory support for Saint Thomas Heart VAD Center at Saint Thomas Hospital. “The number of transplants on an annual basis is really not changing. Therefore, over the past few years Saint Thomas Hospital has devoted considerable resources to becoming the only VAD center in Middle Tennessee and one of only 16 nationally certified for ‘destination VAD’ therapy.”
A growing number of congestive heart failure patients are living longer and better with the device originally intended as a “bridge” to transplant. Thoratec Corp., the company that makes and sells the HeartMate II, a type of VAD, estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 advanced heart failure patients in the United States would benefit from a VAD. About 11,000 people worldwide have received the device since 2005.
Perhaps the most well-known person to have received a VAD is former Vice President Dick Cheney, who had his surgery in July 2010. But, local patient, J.C. Slater, also saw the need for the device. After nearly 40 years of struggling with the side effects of heart disease, Slater got the chance to live a fuller life.
“Over the years, I had multiple heart attacks, bypass surgeries and other complications. I’d exhausted my options,” said Slater. “When my physicians at Saint Thomas Hospital told me the VAD could relieve the incredible stress my heart was enduring, I didn’t even have to think about agreeing to get it.”
“VADs are an exciting new development for patients with advanced heart failure,” said Dr. Mark Aaron, medical director of the Saint Thomas Heart VAD Center. “Patients who have had VADs implanted report literally life-changing improvement, going from nearly immobile to normal activity. Many heart failure patients, however, are unaware of the existence or the remarkable advantages of VADs. We believe the VAD Center at Saint Thomas Hospital will change that.”
Saint Thomas Hospital implanted its first VAD in 1996 and its use had increased steadily implanting 10 from 2009-2010 to a hospital record 25 in 2011. This trend is consistent with national trends as VAD implants for destination therapy tripled from 2009 to 2010.
The one-year survival rate is 74 percent for people whose VAD is a permanent option, but it is 85 percent when patients use the device until they can get a heart transplant, according to Thoratec.
Dr. Tedder said documentation was presented at a conference this year of people still alive five and six years after receiving the devices.
According to Slater, “I was able to go home in about a week, and months later I was able to get back to the things I love – like playing with my grandchildren and working in my garden. I’m grateful that I was given this chance to live a fuller life.”