Used to be, a diagnosis of heart failure meant there wasn't much doctors could do, except to put a patient on a heart transplant list and wait.
Now, according to Dr. Deepak Singh, there is another option: an l-vat, or left ventricular assist device.
“That's where the real change is happening. We finally have a device that works well, with minimal complication, that lasts for a long time,” says Dr. Singh.
Dr. Singh, Director of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Geisinger Northeast, showed us both a model l-vat, and one actually taken from a patient's chest who later received a transplant.
It's a pump that is surgically implanted beneath the breast bone, powerful enough to take over 100-percent of heart function if necessary.
Unlike with a transplant, there's very little risk of rejection.
So far about 3-to-5 thousand of them are in use worldwide.
Dr. Singh says, “The number of hearts available is limited. Lots of patients waiting for transplants are dying. This helps fill that need.”
Doctors point out, the l-vat is a serious commitment.
It's battery operated through an internal-to-external cord, meaning the user must always wear battery packs and it requires longterm check-ups and medication.
Dr. Eileen Rattigan, a non-invasive cardiologist at Geisinger, admits it is not for everyone, but she says it can be either a bridge to a transplant, or a more long-term solution.
Dr. Rattigan says, “You take somebody from being a cardiac cripple, with multiple hospitalizations from heart failure and pure misery- you put in this device and they're doing a tap dance a month later. It's really remarkable.”