Ventricular Assist Devices
Special Devices Help Ailing Hearts
The University of Chicago Medicine is home to one the most respected heart failure programs in the world. Our comprehensive program offers proven therapies such as ventricular assist devices (VADs)--surgically implanted, portable pumps designed to extend the lives of people with heart failure.
Years of Experience with VADs
Our cardiac care team has earned an international reputation for its expertise in VAD treatment and research.
Surgeons at University of Chicago were the first in the world to successfully implant one of the earliest VADs. Today, we are one of the busiest VAD programs in the Midwest.
Our doctors are experienced working with the newest, FDA-approved implants, including the HeartMate® II, the HeartMate® XVE LVAD, and the Thoratec PVAD™. We are also studying the next generation of VADs, which could provide even more options for people with heart failure.
The University of Chicago Medicine is one of 17 institutions nationally participating in the HeartWare HVAD left ventricular assist device (LVAD) clinical trial. This device is a next generation LVAD that provides heart failure patients with up to 10 liters of additional blood flow, restoring a much better quality of life in most cases. It is only the size of a D-cell battery.
Dedicated Support for Patients and Families
At the University of Chicago, a dedicated, full-time registered nurse coordinates care for VAD patients. Her role is to help educate patients and their families on all aspects of VAD therapy--before, during, and after treatment.
Our patients appreciate having a dedicated "go to" person who is available to answer their questions and help coordinate their care, every step of the way.
VADs for Bridge to Transplant and Destination Therapy
Most often, VADs are used in one of two ways to treat heart failure:
- As a "bridge to transplant," a temporary implant used to help extend the life of someone waiting for a heart transplant.
- As "destination therapy," or long-term treatment for patients who are not candidates for transplant, such as those with end-stage congestive heart failure. In these patients, the pumps are placed permanently to help the heart work better.
Besides extending a patient's life, these devices can improve symptoms of heart failure, such as fatigue and shortness of breath.
The University of Chicago Medicine is certified by the Joint Commission to offer VAD treatment as a destination therapy. Our medical center earned this special designation after undergoing a rigorous review process to help ensure that we provide high-quality, effective VAD care.
Frequently Asked Questions About VADs
- What is a ventricular assist device?
- Are they portable?
- Who is a candidate for a VAD?
- What are the risks?
A. A ventricular assist device is a surgically implanted pump designed for people with heart failure. Different types of VADs are approved for different purposes and different patients. For example, the HeartMate II is an example of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). It’s smaller than many other devices, so it may be an option for more people. It also requires less invasive surgery.
Another example of an LVAD is the HeartMate® XVE, one of the most widely used LVADs. It also requires a less invasive operation.
LVADs work by pulling blood from the left ventricle (the lower part of the heart) and pushing it out the aorta, the blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. In other words, it "assists" the weak part of the heart in people with heart failure.
The LVAD includes a pump, which is implanted in the upper part of the abdomen. It is connected to a tube that runs outside of the body and links to a battery pack. At nighttime, the VAD can be powered by a machine that plugs into an electrical outlet in the patient’s home.
University of Chicago interventional cardiologists can place one type of circulatory assist device, the TandemHeart™, in the catheterization lab. The TandemHeart is used as a short-term bridge to transplant or in preparation for implantation of another VAD. The pump is also used in select cases as a "bridge to recovery" when the heart just needs temporary support until it can regain function. The TandemHeart is not implanted in the upper abdomen -- the pump remains outside the body and is connected to the patient's circulatory system via tubes inserted into arteries in the groin area. Patients remain hospitalized while the TandemHeart is in place.
Q. Are VADs portable?
A. Yes. VADs are portable and battery-operated, so patients can be discharged from the hospital, live at home, and enjoy their freedom--whether their VAD is for bridge or destination therapy.
A. VADs are for people with chronic congestive heart failure (CHF) who meet certain criteria. Generally, these are people with advanced heart failure who are considered Class III or IV by the New York Heart Association classification system.
VADs are not appropriate for some patients with advanced heart failure. Some people who might not be good candidates for VADs are those with advanced and irreversible kidney failure, liver disease, lung disease, or blood clotting disorders.
A. Many of the newer VADs are smaller, quieter, and longer-lasting than models developed just 10 years ago.
Still, implanting a VAD requires major surgery, and most patients need to stay in the hospital for about two weeks after the operation.
Some of the risks of the procedure include bleeding, blood clots, stroke, and infections. When you discuss the options with your team, you and your doctors can weigh these potential risks against the possible benefits of surgery.