New heart pump giving hope to patients not eligible for transplant


by Jay Crandall

Posted on May 19, 2011 at 9:22 PM

Updated Thursday, May 19 at 10:08 PM

PHOENIX - We have heard of wearing your heart on your sleeve, but what about carrying it in a fanny pack.

For Kevin Lausch, that is almost the case. He has a heart pump called a left ventricular assist device in his chest and a monitor strapped around his waist. He says it gave him a new chance at life when things were looking bleak.

"So it was…the next phone call was going to be hospice." Just four months ago, Lausch, who was suffering from congestive heart failure, knew there were few options left.

He was ineligible for a transplant says his heart was no longer strong enough to pump blood through his body. "The ejection fraction had gone down to single digits which means you are in deep. My mother, like all mothers, told me to get a second opinion. "

Lausch headed to the Cavanagh Heart Center at Banner Good Sam where Dr. Orazio Amabile offered another option. He could put an LVAD, left ventrical assist device, in Kevin's chest.

Dr. Orazio says, "It is a continuous flow pump that is surgically placed. Having a machine in his chest did not sound terribly exciting to Lausch but given the alternative, in the LVAD went.

Dr. Amabile explains how it is hooked up. "We put it in the apex of the left ventricle and we bring this hose up here and plug it into the aorta. There is a little propeller inside the device and it actually sucks the blood out and decompresses the heart completely and it takes over the whole function of the left ventricle and it supplies it to the rest of the body.

Normally we have a systolic and diastolic motion of the heart. It squeezes blood out and fills it up. This actually takes the blood out and pushes it through the body and you lose your pulse.

It is just a flat line. "The device is powered by batteries, attached through a thin wire running from Kevin's chest and out through a hole in his stomach.

He carries a small monitor in a fanny pack. He can also hook up to a fixed power source giving him power to regain the life he had lost.

"I couldn't walk the hundred feet from my bedroom to my office before. I was at the rehab center this morning at Good Sam. I worked out on the treadmill for 45 minutes between the treadmill and the stair-stepper and the weights for 45 minutes." 

It is also a huge relief for his family, his son Kevin is about to re-deploy to Afghanistan. "A lot more weight is taken off my shoulders. I can keep my head in the game. There…instead of worrying about home as much." 

So what’s next for Kevin? No one knows for sure but Dr. Amaibile says giving him this device is a good first step. "You know it saddened me to see people before these devices were available to say ‘You need to go to hospice and spend the rest of your days’."

Kevin adds, "How long you going to get out of it. I don't know but I got a week more than I had before so I will take it quite happily." 

LVADS were originally designed as a bridge for people waiting to receive transplants but they now are offering new hope to patients who will never get transplants, improving both the quality of life and helping them live longer. 

For those wondering if the batteries give out, Kevin's heart would still pump, but not with enough pressure to keep him alive in the long term.