Vivian Williams: Right now there are close to five million people in America suffering from heart failure. Many of those people would benefit from a heart transplant, but because most of them are over age 65, they are often not eligible for that life-saving operation. But now doctors at Mayo Clinic are studying a device that is not only keeping people with heart failure alive longer but it is also giving them a better quality of life.
After 76 years of music, end-stage heart failure had silenced Verna Schrombeck's piano.
Verna Schrombeck: I could not sit at the piano. I was not healthy enough. I wasn't strong enough and my fingers would not function. I was just in a very, very serious condition.
Vivian Williams: But Verna is back at the keyboard thanks to a device implanted at Mayo Clinic. It's called a ventricular assist device or VAD.
Margaret Redfield, M.D. — Mayo Clinic cardiology: The VAD therapies are for people who have an enlarged heart that doesn't contract well. It doesn't squeeze and pump the blood to the rest of the body.
Vivian Williams: Cardiologist Margaret Redfield teamed up with surgeon Soon John Park.
Soon John Park, M.D. — Mayo Clinic surgeon: It is a heart assisting pump.
Vivian Williams: During open heart surgery, Dr. Park implanted the device near Verna's heart. It is connected to the heart's main pumping chamber in the left ventricle and to the main artery carrying blood out to the body. A small wire extends outside of her body and hooks to an external battery pack. When turned on, the pump takes over much of her heart's work and delivers a continuous flow of blood to her body.
Soon John Park, M.D.: It could effectively replace most of heart function in people who are suffering from failing heart.
Verna Schrombeck: I feel almost so normal that I want to get up and do things without remembering that I'm carrying this LVAD equipment with me.
Vivian Williams: But Verna says carrying the battery pack, which she changes every five hours or so, is a small price to pay for life and music.
VAD therapy used to be used to keep people alive while they wait for a transplant. Now, it is being studied for use in people like Verna as lifelong therapy. Dr. Park says the technology is relatively new so they don't have long term results but there have been people on the device for seven and a half years.
For Medical Edge, I'm Vivian Williams.