Tiny devices do big jobs for ailing hearts

WYNNEWOOD, Pa. (WPVI) -- Some tiny devices that do big jobs have come to the area.

And staffers at one hospital got a closer look at them today.

Thanks to microchips, the size of medical devices is shrinking.

That is making them easier for doctors to use and less traumatic for patients.

Today we got a look at how new technology can help patients with heart disease.

Doctors and nurses at Lankenau Medical Center got hands-on experience with the world's smallest heart pumps, the Impella pumps made by AbioMed.

They are powerful, yet thinner than pencils, in fact, thin enough to be threaded into the heart through a blood vessel.

That eliminates the need for open heart surgery.

Cardiologist Eric Gnall told Action News, "Prior to that, we would have to do a sternotomy - open up the patient's chest - and use a full implantable VAD, which was a big bulky device, and a very traumatic experience."

"To do open heart, the start-up time for a lab is 2 to 3 hours - for any O-R to get rolling," said Dr. Gnall.

"And in the meantime the patients are not doing well, and we lose a lot of patients in those first couple of hours," he said.

The motor itself in the Impella pump is smaller than a pencil eraser.

It boosts the speed and power of blood flow, pumping about 3 liters of blood a minute.

This helps hearts that are too weak to do it on their own.

The pumps are NOT for long-term use, but can save lives in emergencies, by giving hearts time to rest and heal.

"This allows a rapid rescucitation and stabilization," says Dr. Gnall.

In Philadelphia, they're going into use at Lankenau and Einstein.
Copyright © 2019 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.