“Without a Pulse”: Five years survival stories on an Artificial Heart

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  • The artificial heart (LVAD) was implanted in these patients facing end-stage heart failure at Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket in 2015-16. The device, which is supposedly considered a “bridge to a transplant”, proved to be “destination therapy”
  • Increases life expectancy by 13-15 years
  • These patients have no heartbeat, pulse or measurable blood pressure, but continue to lead a normal life. 

Mumbai: Patients facing end-stage heart failure years ago; and certain death in the absence of an immediate heart transplant – are leading near-normal lives. The reason: Heart surgeons at Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket implanted a mechanical pump called the LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) that took over the function of their failing hearts. These patients don’t have a pulse, heartbeat or blood pressure, yet they are able to do everything that a healthy person can, as their blood flow has been fully restored.

Said Dr. Kewal Krishan, Director, Heart Transplant & Ventricular Assist Devices, Dept. of Cardiovascular Surgery, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket: “LVAD is a device that adds 13 to 15 years to the life of people facing imminent heart failure. It boosts functions of the heart and is used either as a temporary measure till a heart transplant can be conducted, or as a destination therapy where the patient lives with the device permanently as they are unfit for a heart transplant. LVAD enables patients to live a normal life even after end-stage heart failure.” 

He added: “We have conducted over a dozen LVAD implants till now at Max Hospital, Saket, ranging from a seven-year-old girl to an 81-year-old female patient. Four of those patients are living a normal life even five years after implant– they are the first and only LVAD recipients in India to have successfully survived beyond five years. Others are also doing well and hopefully will complete many more years on device.  LVAD is gradually emerging as a good alternative to a heart transplant.” 

LVADs are mechanical pumps of the size of one’s palm and have a cable that connects to an outside chargeable battery unit. An impeller within the pump spins thousands of times a minute, circulating the blood around the body continuously without a break. This means that LVAD patients don’t have a pulse or heartbeat or measurable blood pressure. The external components of LVAD include a controller and batteries which power the device.

50-year-old Neelam Sodhi – a mother of three children and the first woman at Max Healthcare to be implanted with an LVAD – complained of chronic breathing problems and coughing about six years ago. She had suffered a cardiac arrest earlier, but a pacemaker and medications did little to improve her condition. She was put on a ventilator as her heart was working to only 20% of its capacity. Since a donor heart was not available for a transplant, doctors suggested LVAD implant as an alternative life-saving procedure. She underwent the procedure in 2016. She has been fine since then and living a normal life. 

“I like singing and used to sing a dozen bhajans daily. But my world collapsed when my heart became very weak and almost collapsed, no longer able to pump blood to my body. After getting the artificial heart, I have got my life back, and I am back to singing. I got my youngest child married a couple of years ago – I was not destined to see that day if I was to wait for a heart transplant. I thank doctors of Max Hospital, Saket from the bottom of my heart for enabling me to return to a normal life,” said Ms Sodhi.

Another patient, 61-year-old, Shyam Sundar Aggarwal with a history of diabetes and hypertension reached the hospital after developing heart-related issues. He had been suffering from thrombosis for a couple of years before having a massive heart attack in 2015 wherein he was diagnosed with 100% blockage and was diagnosed to have an ejection fraction of less than 20%. Implanted with LVAD in 2015, he has been living a healthy and wholesome life ever since. 

At the age of 73, Ram Pratap Garg, leads an active life, practicing Yoga as a daily activity. He underwent LVAD implant in 2015. Mr Garg said he is very happy to have gone ahead with his decision of getting the LVAD. “About five years ago, I was undergoing treatment at another private hospital but had no improvement in my condition. The doctors had lost all hope when someone suggested that Dr. Kewal Krishan at Max Hospital will be able to give us some hope. There was some kind of an infection that had to be treated for the first 10-15 days when I reached Saket after which I underwent the device implant. I am happy to report that this device easily supports my active lifestyle.”

 


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