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First LVAD, the bionic heart, implanted at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center

CONTACT: Matthew Van Stone: 808-3248
Jan. 9, 2013

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. - In December, surgeons at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center performed the area’s first locally implanted left ventricular assist device (LVAD) into George C. Welliver, a71-year-old man from Mifflinville, Pa. Welliver’s LVAD implant was the third performed by Geisinger cardiothoracic surgeons after two were implanted at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, as part of Geisinger’s certification process.

Once commonly referred to as the “bridge to transplant”, this new heart pump technology has evolved into what could be considered a second lease on life for end-stage heart failure patients. The battery-operated device inserted into a patient’s abdomen pulls blood from the left ventricle into a pump that distributes the blood. In recent years, this technology has been used more frequently for long-term therapy, increasing the number of benefiting patients tenfold.

“In previous years, an LVAD would have been implanted into patients suffering from late-stage heart failure simply to buy time until a donor heart became available,” said Deepak Singh, M.D., director of mechanical circulatory support, Geisinger Health System. “Today, however, we have examined the longer-term efficacy of the LVAD and its ability to help heart failure patients maintain a fairly normal quality of life.”

“I am so happy to see George regain his strength” said Welliver’s wife Shirley. “This is the best holiday gift we received that really gives him a fighting chance to live into the New Year.”

Since the January 2010 FDA approval of LVADs for use in patients ineligible for a transplant, the number of potential LVAD patients nationwide has increased from thousands to tens of thousands. Long-term use of LVADs gained notoriety when former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney received one in July 2011. The relatively silent pump corrects poor blood flow due to end-stage heart failure by simulating a beating heart and delivering continuous blood flow through connecting tubes into the body’s circulatory system. The units are powered electronically via a drive line cord that connects from the abdomen to rechargeable battery packs during the day and outlet power at night.

“Prior to receiving an LVAD, many patients may have struggled to walk just a few feet without feeling short of breath or weak,” said Sanjay Doddamani, M.D., system director, advanced cardiac disease – heart failure, Geisinger Health System. “Yet, following the recovery from an LVAD procedure, patients can oftentimes resume normal activities around the house and mild physical activity, depending on age and physical fitness.”

In 2005 the American Heart Association found LVADs to reduce the risk of death in end-stage heart failure patients by 50 percent at both six and 12 months following surgery. It also found the average life span of those patients to be expanded significantly.

In a more recent clinical trial consisting of patients ineligible for heart transplants, the one- and two-year survival rates were observed to be well above 50 percent, reinforcing the hope that many of these patients previously lacked. Additionally, this trial identified that quality of life was significantly improved as well.
“At Geisinger, we view the LVAD as one of our biggest tools in an increasingly bigger toolbox of surgical and medical therapies for end-stage heart failure,” said Dr. Doddamani. “It is important not to view LVAD implantations an alternative to transplant, although it has evolved into an extremely viable option to improve the quality of life for patients who may not have had such an opportunity in the past.”

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