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Mechanical Support Provides Options For Heart Patients


COLUMBUS, Ohio – With advances in research and technology, clinicians at The Ohio State University Medical Center are studying numerous treatment options for people with congestive heart failure. Ventricular assist devices (VAD), commonly known as heart pumps, take over the pumping function for one or both of the heart’s ventricles, and are used as bridges to transplant and, in some cases, as long-term therapies for chronically ill patients.

It wasn’t long ago that the options were limited for those suffering from heart failure. In most cases, patients remained on a transplant list until a heart became available. Wait times and decreased availability of donors have strengthened the need to develop other methods to support failing hearts.

Dr. Benjamin Sun, director of cardiothoracic surgery at the Ohio State University Medical Center, understands the importance that VADs play by temporarily allowing a damaged heart to rest and heal itself.

“Heart failure is one of the largest and fastest growing areas of cardiovascular disease, and with many patients suffering severe or end-stage disease, the need for therapeutic alternatives continues to grow,” says Sun, who is also director of transplantation and mechanical support. “We are testing numerous short- and long-term options to help achieve the best possible patient outcomes.”

Ohio State’s VAD program has seen significant growth resulting in a 179 percent increase in implant procedures at the Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital between 2006 and 2009. Much of the VAD program’s success is attributable to Ohio State’s team approach to caring for the patients, which utilizes a coordinated effort among the surgeon, electrophysiologist and heart failure specialist to provide the best therapeutic approach for personalized cardiovascular care.

OSU Medical Center was one of nation’s leading enrollers in a recent randomized, multi-center trial testing the effectiveness of a second generation VAD that is smaller, lighter and longer lasting than its predecessor. While overall two-year survival rates were at 58 percent for all study participants, patients enrolled at Ohio State experienced survival rates approximately ten percent higher at both one and two years, in addition to improved quality of life. The device recently received Food and Drug Administration approval as a destination therapy for heart failure patients.

Study results were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. According to Sun, those results point to the continued use and benefit of VADs to help patients who are poor transplant candidates regain enough physical and nutritional health to make them strong and successful transplant recipients.

“VADs are the ultimate rehabilitative therapy and allow most patients to achieve some level of healing in their hearts,” adds Sun. “Many people who receive these pumps achieve a very good quality of life, and may decide to keep the pump for years instead of receiving a transplant.”

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