What was considered a temporary fix for people awaiting heart transplants may also be reversing the problem. It turns out heart pumps may actually be much more than a stand-in for the real thing for some heart failure patient.
Mornings spent together are truly a blessing for Barbara and Walter Harsche. Three years ago, Walter was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and was told he needed a heart transplant.
"And the thought of losing him was just horrible for me, really horrible," Barbara says.
To support him when his body was in shock from heart failure, Walt's doctor implanted a pump known as the LVAD, a left ventricular assist device.
"I was all set to go if the phone call came," Walt says.
However, while he was waiting for a new heart, Walt's own heart began to get stronger. So, Walter enrolled in a first-of-its-kind trial at the University of Pennsylvania. It was testing the LVAD as a bridge to recovery, giving the heart a chance to heal, so it can beat once again on its own.
"The patient is walking around doing what they want to," says Dr. Eduardo Rame.
Patients' enlarged hearts begin to shrink on the device and slowly begin to heal. European studies show, after explant, most patients are heart failure free for more than two years.
"We're not talking about life with a heart on crutches. We're talking about a life lived well," Rame says.
Walter was on the device for seven months. Now, two years later his heart, like his marriage, is going strong.
The LVAD is used in most patients for between six and nine months to strengthen the heart and then patients are slowly weaned off the device until explant.
Using the LVAD as a bridge to recovery is for the 50-percent of heart failure patients whose heart failure is not related to a heart attack or severe coronary artery disease.
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