These devices can support the function of the left, right, or both heart ventricles. Ventricles are the lower chambers of your heart. The VAD includes tubes to carry blood out of your heart and to your blood vessels, a power source, and a control unit to monitor device function. The device may be used to support your heart until it recovers, to support your heart while you are waiting for a heart transplant, or to help your heart work better if you are not eligible for a heart transplant.
Surgery is required to connect the VAD to your heart. The surgery will be performed in a hospital. You will have general anesthesia and will not be awake or feel pain during the surgery. You will receive anticlotting medicine through an intravenous (IV) line in your arm. A breathing tube connected to a ventilator will help you breathe. A surgeon will open your chest and connect your heart’s arteries and veins to a heart-lung bypass machine. Your surgeon will place the pump in the upper part of your belly wall and connect the pump to your heart with a tube. Another tube will connect the pump to one of your major arteries. The VAD will be connected to the control unit and power source outside your body. When the heart-lung machine is switched off, the VAD will support blood flow and take over your heart’s pumping function.
After your surgery, you will recover in the intensive care unit (ICU) and may stay in the hospital for two to eight weeks. Hospital staff will help you to increase your activity gradually to gain strength. You may start a cardiac rehabilitation program. Your medical team will watch closely for signs of infection. To prevent infection, it is important to practice good hygiene, obtain routine vaccines, and properly clean and care for your device and the hole in your abdomen. You will be given instructions on what to do if the device gives a warning that it is not working correctly. If you are on the waiting list for a heart transplant, you will stay in close contact with the transplant center.
Getting a VAD involves serious risks such as blood clots and bleeding from the surgery or caused by the anticlotting medicines. Other risks include infection, device malfunction, and right-sided heart failure if a left VAD was used. Because blood tends to clot more when coming in contact with the VAD, you likely will need to take anticlotting medicines for as long as you have the device. It is important to take your medicines exactly as your doctor prescribes to prevent clots.
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The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) leads or sponsors many studies aimed at preventing, diagnosing, and treating heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders.