Advances in heart pump technology allowing patients to live longer

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 05:28PM
Advances in heart pump technology allowing patients to live longer: Ali Gorman reports during Action News at 5pm on February 27, 2018.

PHILADELPHIA - Devices that help pump blood through the heart have helped thousands of people stay alive until they can get a transplant.

They used to be a short-term fix, but now more of them are being used long-term and in some cases, as a permanent fix.

Advances in technology are allowing people to live longer with the devices. In fact, some older patients are choosing to stay on a heart pump so that younger people can move up in the transplant line.

For a North Philadelphia man, a device is helping him be the best dad he can be.

Carlos Rodriguez and his 8-year-old daughter Payton enjoy their time together now more than ever. He is raising Peyton on his own, but for the past 5 years, heart failure robbed him of the strength he needed.

"I couldn't walk half a block without stopping 2 or 3 times. I couldn't catch my breath," he recalled.

A serious episode last July landed Carlos at Einstein Medical Center. At the time, he didn't qualify for a heart transplant, so doctors opted for a heart pump - a ventricular assist device, or VAD.

"It allows blood to circulate in a heart that is too weak, or failing to circulate blood," said Dr. Alexandra Tuluca, cardian surgeon at Einstein Medical Center.

Dr. Tuluca says VADs are used when medication stops working. It's the driveline while the pump itself is inside the body.

It's powered by either a direct connection to electricity, or a battery pack outside the body. It can't get wet, so Carlos can't shower, but it's still brought life closer to normal.

"I can breathe. I can actually take walks and take my daughter to the park. We can play in the park," he said.

And after losing some weight and giving up smoking, Carlos is now on the waiting list for a transplant.

But Dr. Tuluca says VADs are also helping patients who aren't transplant candidates.

"We have patients who are 5, 7 years out on our list on this device, and doing very well," she said.

Carlos is looking forward to continued time with his daughter.

"To see her graduate from college, and help raise her kids, and see my grandchildren from her," he said.

After he gets his transplant, Carlos says he's looking forward to taking a long, hot bath. His daughter is looking forward to being able to go swimming with him in the ocean.

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