OHSU Is First in State to Implant New Heart Pump

10/21/09  Portland, Ore.

Device offers hope to some of the sickest cardiac patients, provides critical bridge to transplants

Oregon Health & Science University is the first hospital in the state to implant the HeartMate II, a new left ventricular assist device (LVAD) designed to dramatically improve survival and quality of life in patients with end-stage heart failure.

The HeartMate II is the first LVAD to have a rotor, rather than a pump, and works by providing a constant flow of blood to the body. The device only has one moving part, making it more durable and longer lasting – up to 10 years – than previous LVADs. The HeartMate II is about the size of a cell phone, making it one of the first mechanical devices ideally suited for women and others with smaller chest cavities who previously had limited options.

Two OHSU patients already have received the HeartMate II device. Dale Nye, an active 52-year-old Salem man, had no idea he was sick until he woke up one morning unable to breathe. He was diagnosed with congestive heart disease. Within weeks he had another incident and awoke in the OHSU intensive care unit where he was told he wouldn't live long enough to receive the heart transplant he now desperately needed. His only option for survival was the HeartMate II. Within a couple of weeks, Dale was home recovering and beginning to ease back into his normal life.

"I'm still in shock," Nye said. "If you had asked me last spring, I would have told you I was in great health. Now I'm adjusting to my new life, but I'm feeling really good."

Nye used the HeartMate II for more than two months and was finally able to get a heart transplant in September. He's grateful for the LVAD. "They didn't give me long without it," he said.

The HeartMate II is implanted alongside a patient's weakened heart and takes over the work of the left ventricle, which is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood throughout the body. The device is connected to an electrical cable that passes through the patient's skin to an external controller, about the size of an iPod, which the patient wears on his or her waist. The controller can run on batteries for three hours or be connected to a power outlet.

"This is a rapidly progressing field, and we are excited to be able to offer this device to some of our sickest patients who have very limited options for long-term survival," said Howard Song, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of cardiovascular medicine and cardiothoracic surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine.

The device is currently approved as a bridge to transplant, helping keep the sickest patients alive and healthy while awaiting a scarce donor heart, but the FDA is expected to approve it as a "destination therapy," or long-term alternative to a heart transplant, soon.

OHSU offers a comprehensive cardiovascular care program, from prevention of heart disease to transplant. It in the only hospital in the state Medicare-certified to perform heart transplants, and the only designated Center of Excellence for cardiac assist device implantation. OHSU also is the largest transplant program in the state, having performed more than 500 heart transplants since 1985.