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Healing failing hearts

Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 8:36 AM EST
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More than six million Americans are suffering from heart failure right now. It happens when the heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to other parts of the body. It’s a serious condition. In fact, almost 400,000 will die from heart failure this year. But now doctors may be able to heal hearts that are dying.

Anne Binger is riding high— enjoying every single minute she can. Just a few years ago, she could barely get out of bed. She was 40 and diagnosed with heart failure. Doctors put in a left ventricular assist device.

“LVAD which is a fancy word to describe a cardiac assist device,” explained Stavros George Drakos, MD, PhD at the University of Utah Health.

The only way Anne would get off the LVAD was to receive a heart transplant. But Dr. Drakos gave Anne another option: let her heart rest, build it back up with medications, and then get it beating on its own.

“So, what do you think about trying this? And I said, ‘what are my main risks?’ and he said, ‘spontaneous death.’ I said, ‘great. I’m living with spontaneous death moment to moment for the last year. So, let’s go for it,’” recalled Anne Binger.

Anne became one of the first patients to get her LVAD removed.

“The LVAD takes over and removes the stress and the load from the heart, which is weak,” illustrated Dr. Drakos.

“I was beating on my own,” Binger exclaimed.

“People initially, consider these like coming back from the dead, like Lazarus, like a miracle, and miracles, as we know, don’t happen every day,” elaborated Dr. Drakos.

Anne returned home, relying on her own heart and a case full of medications.

“Just last week, I got the go-ahead to try to take one medication away and it feels like Christmas,” Binger shared.

The ideal candidate is younger, whose heart is weak but not very enlarged. Because this is such a new procedure, doctors are not sure how long the revived heart will last and if another LVAD will be needed later. Dr. Drakos hopes that what they learn by this investigational study will help them revive failing hearts with medication, without the patient being put on an LVAD device.

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