Ventricular Assist Devices: You Gotta Have Heart

Ventricular assist devices (VADs) represent a significant advancement in heart failure treatment and surgery. Teenagers with heart problems can now lead normal lives with this device, which supports heart function and allows kids with cardiac challenges to live and function as normally as other teenagers. They can attend school, play sports and even work summer jobs if they are so inclined. The only limitation concerns swimming because the 'pack' containing the VAD cannot be submerged in water.


VAD PosterVAD Poster

Boston Chidren's Hospital and Deyven Ferraras

Boston Children's Heart Failure/Heart Transplant Program is one of the largest of its kind in the country. The team is comprised of several specialists who are pioneers in their specialty and have made significant advances in heart failure treatment and surgery. Dr. Christina VanderPluym is the director of the Mechanical Circulatory Support Program and the cardiologist who treated a very special young man named Deyven Ferraras.

Deyven was a high school senior from Providence, Rhode Island, who had been experiencing heart failure when he was rushed to the hospital for a full cardiac evaluation. He feared his dreams of attending Bentley University where he planned to study accounting and live on campus might not come true. But Dr.VanderPluym assured him that even though eventually he would need a heart transplant, for now he could live his life to the fullest with the help of one of the newer types of ventricular assist devices (VADs) available today.


Deyven FerrerasDeyven Ferreras

 Although Deyven is not the first young man with a VAD to attend college, he is the first to do so while living on a college campus. According to Dr. VanderPlumy:  ";As the first college to ever house a student with a VAD, Bentley was understandably concerned about Deyven's safety. But the university's administrators were so committed to him–they really came through with a strong and coordinated effort to make the appropriate accommodations. "

How does the VAD work?

A VAD is comprised of several basic parts. These include a small tube that carries blood out of the heart and into a pump. Another tube transports blood from the pump throughout the body. All VADs have a power source that connects to a control unit, which monitors all functions. If the power is deficient or the device isn't working properly, it emits warnings or alarms. Some VADs pump blood in the same manner as the heart, with a pumping action, while others maintain a continuous flow of blood. Current research indicates that continuous flow VADs decrease the risks of complications and reduce the length of hospital stays.


Ventricular Assist DeviceVentricular Assist Device

There are two basic types of VADs; the most common of which is the LVAD, which helps the left ventricle pump blood to the aorta. RVADS are usually more short-term and are used to support the right ventricle after LVAD or other heart surgery. A BIVAD refers to a device which utilizes both types. These can be trans-cutaneous (with the pump and power source outside the body) or implantable, in which case the pump is located inside the body with the power source outside. Implantable VADS are used mostly for people awaiting heart transplants or as a long-term alternative for those who cannot receive a transplant.

Who invented the VAD?

Dr. Michel De Bakey performed the first successful implantation of a ventricular assist device  at Methodist  Hospital in Houston, Texas, back in 1966.Throughout his long career, his many surgical innovations have saved thousands of lives and are in common practice today. One device he invented while still in medical school back in the 1930s helped launch the era of open-heart surgery. The roller pump takes over the functions of the heart and lungs during surgery and supplies oxygenated blood to the brain. It has become the central component of the modern heart-lung machine.


DeBakey's Roller PumpDeBakey's Roller Pump

The future of the VAD

Until very recently, VADs were for people with large chests only, as they were big and bulky. Smaller more reliable devices are now available thanks to many scientific advances. For Dr. VanderPluym it was still a matter of thinking outside that box when it came to devising a way for  Deyven and others to  have more mobility. She found a body-fitting pouch available at that  works perfectly. Patients can wear a shirt over the backpack and it isn't even visible.

For young Deyven Ferraras and others with diseased hearts, the future is a flame that burns bright.

While their advantages are obvious, do  you think that VADs and other such devices could cause problems at airport security points?

Closing thoughts on heart transplants:
It is infinitely better to transplant a heart than to bury it to be devoured by worms. ~ Dr. Christiaan Bernard

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