What is an LVAD

LVAD stands for Left Ventricular Assist Device. It is an implanted device that works to supports your heart. A LVAD does not replace your heart but works with it to pump more blood around the body with less effort.

Why would you be recommended an LVAD?

If a medical professional has recommended you need an LVAD it means your heart cannot not sufficiently pump blood around the body anymore. In the UK the main use of LVAD’s is as a ‘bridge to transplant’. It allows people with end stage heart failure to have a good standard of health while waiting for suitable heart for transplant.

In some instances the LVAD can allow the heart to recover sufficiently so a transplant is not needed. In these cases the LVAD can be removed as the heart has regained sufficient power to support enough blood being pumped around the body.

How does an LVAD work?

LVAD technology is amazing. There are different models used but they all produce the same outcomes. Simply put, it’s like a ‘turbo charger’ for the heart. It’s a device that connects to the heart via the bottom of the left ventricle and the aorta. Blood flows from the ventricle into the ‘pump’ which then powers the blood flow via the aorta to the rest of the body.

From the pump there is a cable connected called a ‘drive line’ that exits from the abdomen. The drive line is attached to a control unit which in turn is attached to batteries that power the pump. This sounds like a lot weight, but it can be carried in a little bag or around the waist like a belt.

Image of an LVAD?

What’s the surgery like?

Having an LVAD fitted is a significant operation that consists of 4-6hrs of open heart surgery under general anaesthetic.  Once the surgery has finished you will be taken to Intensive Care Unit. You will be kept asleep for a few days to recover. Once you have been woken up you will stay in intensive care for a few more days until being transferred to another ward to continue recovery. There is a lot to adjust to and it is very normal to feel stressed and anxious. Try not to worry too much and always talk to your medical staff, friends and family. If recovery goes well you could be discharged within four weeks to return home.

Living with an LVAD?

It’s a big change and adjustment. The benefits you will notice is having much more energy and being able to tackle things like stairs much easier. After a period of time many people find they can return to work and live a relativity normal life. You will need to carry the controller, batteries and spares with you. For many people it means having a much better standard of living while waiting for transplant. You will regularly visit hospital to attend clinic so medical staff can check that everything is OK. You will be on a range of medication, one particular drug is Warfarin. Warfarin is used to thin the blood to prevent potentially dangerous blood clots. This requires regular blood test and adjustments to medication in order maintain the best levels. It’s also very important to keep the drive line exit area clean and change the dressing regularly. Before leaving hospital medical staff will train you and other family members in look after the LVAD and redressing the driveline exit site.

My tips as a person whose had one

My name is Andrew and I am an Ambassador of The Pumping Marvellous Foundation. I had heart failure when I was 32 caused by a virus.

When I first got heart failure I had never heard of this type of technology. It was completely foreign to me. I can’t lie and say I was enthusiastic about the idea. However when I asked mt medical team they showed me how it worked which really helped ’. Don’t be afraid to ask questions it’s important so you feel as comfortable as possible.

For me I had run out of options and without an LVAD my chances of survival were small. I talked to my family so we all understood what it meant. For me it would allow time until a suitable heart became available. It also meant I returned to relative normal life and had a lot more energy.

Living with the LVAD is an adjustment. For me I felt so much better is was amazing. I was house bound before and after the LVAD I could go out, see friends and I just felt so much better. I was given a power cable that even connects to a car 12V cigarette lighter! You do have to look after yourself and make sure you keep the drive line exit site clean and change the dressing regularly.