Ventricular Assist Device (VAD)
A ventricular assist device (VAD) is a mechanical pump that helps circulate blood from the ventricles (the lower chambers of the heart) throughout the body. People can need a VAD if they've had heart failure, have weakened hearts or if they're waiting for heart surgery.
At The University of Kansas Health System, our team of cardiac specialists has extensive experience with ventricular assist devices. We coordinate skilled heart surgeons with a team of excellent nurses and dedicated palliative care providers to ensure a positive quality of life for those who are living with a VAD.
What is a ventricular assist device?
A ventricular assist device is designed to help your heart move blood throughout the body when your heart is too weak or too injured to circulate blood properly. A VAD can be placed in either the right or left ventricle of the heart, or in both ventricles. Most often, a VAD is placed in the left ventricle, in which case it's referred to as a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).
Your doctor may recommend that you use a VAD short-term, such as while you're waiting for a heart transplant or for your heart to become stronger. When a VAD is used for only a short time while you’re waiting for a heart transplant, it’s called a “bridge to transplant” or BTT.
In other cases, you may need a VAD as a long-term solution to manage heart failure. A VAD that’s recommended for long-term use is referred to as “destination therapy.”
Types of ventricular assist devices
The University of Kansas Health System offers 2 different types of ventricular assist devices: the HeartMate II LVAD and the HeartWare HVAD®:
Who can have a ventricular assist device?
Your doctor will look at several different factors to decide whether you’re a good candidate for a VAD:
- Whether you can take blood-thinning medications long-term
- Whether you need assistance for the left ventricle, the right ventricle or both
- Your ability to manage life with a VAD
- Your degree of heart failure
- Your overall health, including any other serious medical conditions
How does a ventricular assist device work?
Your doctor will implant your VAD during open heart surgery. The VAD is placed so that a tube connects from your right or left ventricle to a pump, and then from the pump to the aorta and out to the rest of your body. The VAD pump is also connected to an external battery pack and controller.
Once the VAD is implanted, the pump circulates blood from your ventricles to the aorta in much the same way as a heart would naturally pump. A VAD is not the same as an artificial heart. The mechanical pump is meant to support your heart, not replace it.
One day, Steve Herndon was hiking with his family. The following week, he was in heart failure. A heart transplant gave him a second chance at life.
Lola Brown, a geriatric nurse, was no stranger to caring for those with serious health conditions. But her advanced heart failure took her by surprise. To survive, Lola would need a heart transplant.
Young and healthy, Zach Engelken wrote off his symptoms of heart failure as a bad cold. But cardiologists at The University of Kansas Health System diagnosed Zach with acute heart failure, and his only hope was a new heart.
Benefits and risks of a ventricular assist device
Benefits of getting a VAD include:
- Better quality of life
- Improved life expectancy
- Improved outcome after heart transplantation when the VAD is used as a bridge-to-transplant
- Reduced heart failure symptoms
There are risks associated with a VAD as well:
What happens during a ventricular assist device implantation?
Implanting a ventricular assist device takes several hours and begins with open heart surgery. Your doctor will perform this procedure while you are under full anesthesia. You will also be placed on a heart and lung bypass machine during the surgery.
Once the VAD is properly placed and working, you can be taken off heart and lung bypass. Following surgery, your recovery will be monitored closely. The national average stay following a VAD is 24 days. At The University of Kansas Health System, our patients’ average stay is 18 days.
Why choose us for a ventricular assist device?
The University of Kansas Health System provides the most advanced heart care tests and treatments. We are the only hospital providing heart transplant surgery in Kansas, and our hospital is a destination for those who need advanced heart failure treatment. Our comprehensive heart failure program ensures you have access to a full array of treatment options, including VADs. We care for the sickest patients with the most complex heart issues. By choosing us for your heart care, you will:
- Benefit from our comprehensive resources, such as dietitians, social workers, palliative care providers, support groups and more
- Have access to a team of advanced heart failure specialists, as well as advanced practice nurses
- Have the opportunity to take part in new clinical trials for advanced heart failure
- Receive coordinated care between specialists and your primary care doctor