Keeping the Heart Beating: the LVAD Implant Update

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A few months ago we showed you a device called an LVAD, or left ventricular assist device, that doctors at Geisinger were trained to use but hadn't yet on an area heart patient.  That changed in December, when they implanted one into the chest of a man from Columbia County.

"That's the best reward of all, to see him looking well and having that look of health about him," said Dr. Deepak Singh, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center near Wilkes-Barre, talking about his first patient to have received an LVAD, a type of implantable heart pump.

"It really is amazing.  When he asked me to do it, I looked at my wife, she looked at me, and we said, 'how soon can you do it?'"  said George Welliver, a 71-year-old father of three and grandfather of three, a Mifflin Township supervisor whose heart had been failing for years.

"I couldn't walk half a block.  I'd have to stop and take a break- I was running out of breath," he said.

His wife of 41-years, Shirley, said the same thing.

"He said to me many times- this just isn't living," she told us. So they didn't hesitate when Dr. Singh suggested a surgery Geisinger officials had never done on a local patient.  They'd implant a device into his chest, leading to a wire that would come out of his side and attach to a power source to keep his heart pumping.  It's a huge commitment, but Dr. Singh points out, George didn't have too many other options.

"George would not have been a candidiate for transplant.  With this device he can live a long, productive life," explained Dr. Singh.

The device was implanted in December of 2012 and can last indefinitely.  Now, George is hooked up to an electrical outlet using a long cord at night, and by day, is hooked up by battery.  Geisinger staff taught his wife what to do, and notified local emergency officials how to deal with problems that might arise.

In just a few months, George has gone from ten percent of his heart functioning to 27 percent, and it keeps getting stronger.

"Everyday it's better and better!" he said.

"The family all loves him a lot.  And we wanted to have him for a lot of years to come," added his wife.