What Is an LVAD?

LVAD stands for “Left Ventricular Assist Device.”

An LVAD helps the heart pump blood through the body. An LVAD doesn’t cure heart failure. It doesn’t replace the heart, and it’s not an artificial heart. It’s a device that attaches to the heart.

Thousands of people have received LVADs since 2006. It’s possible for a patient’s heart to repair itself while attached to an LVAD, but this is extremely rare. It only happens 5% of the time.

Below are the working parts of an LVAD, which are placed both inside and outside the body.

Body chart
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Driveline Site
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LVAD and Heart Transplant

The LVAD can be used as a “Bridge to Transplant.” This means the LVAD would be temporary. It would be used only until a heart becomes available for a transplant.
Other times, the LVAD is used as “Destination Therapy.” This is for people who do not qualify for transplant. Someone who has a Destination Therapy LVAD will likely have the pump for the rest of his or her life. People with Destination Therapy LVADs can’t turn them off (without experiencing heart failure symptoms again or dying).

Sometimes a person who gets an LVAD as a Destination Therapy can get stronger or improve in other ways that make him or her eligible for a transplant. However, for most people, the LVAD is a Destination Therapy.

Talk with your doctor about how getting an LVAD can affect your chances of changing status from Destination Therapy to Bridge to Transplant.
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“What I value and what I asked my doctors about was, Will an LVAD give me a better lifespan? Will it improve my quality of life?”
LVAD Patient

LVAD Surgery: What to Expect

Before Surgery

How sick you are affects how you’ll do during LVAD surgery and with the LVAD. Your doctor will tell you if you are eligible for an LVAD. If you decide to have LVAD surgery, you will need to take steps to prepare.

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Home inspection
You will have to make sure your home is ready for you to live in it with an LVAD. Your LVAD team can give you instructions and suggestions on how to prepare your home.
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Medical Tests
You will undergo multiple medical tests. Your team needs up-to-date and accurate information about your health before the surgery.
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Meet the Team
Your health care team will have several members. It may include a cardiologist, surgeon, LVAD coordinator, social worker, psychiatrist, financial resources worker, and a specialist in ethics.

During Surgery

LVAD surgery may take up to 4 hours. The surgery may be a little bit different for every patient. Your surgeon will talk more with you about what will happen in your surgery.
The Risks of Surgery
All surgery has risks. The risks for LVAD surgery include:

–  bleeding, requiring blood transfusions (This is common.)
–  stroke
–  infection
–  right side heart failure
–  renal failure and respiratory failure

LVAD surgery also has the same risks as other major surgery. These include the risks that come with being under anesthesia, the risks of being in the hospital, and the risks that come with using a breathing machine.

Your surgeon will talk to you more about the risks. In the event that there are complications during your surgery, please discuss Advance Care Planning with your healthcare team.

After Surgery

Recovery from LVAD surgery is different for every patient. Recovery is easier for some people than for others.

Some of the factors that may affect your recovery include:

your age
how healthy you were before surgery
how motivated you are to get well
how healthy you are mentally
how much support you have from family and friends
how well your caregiver(s) understand the LVAD
After surgery

Hospital Stay and Rehabilitation

Some people are so sick before LVAD surgery that they stay in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and hospital for a longer time compared with patients who are less sick. They also spend more time in physical rehabilitation (rehab).

Most people stay in the ICU for 7-10 days, but this may be different at different hospitals.

Ask how long the average stay is at your hospital.

LVAD is major surgery. You will have tubes in your chest and mechanical sleeves on your legs. You may also have temporary pacing wires, IV drips to provide continuous medications, and a breathing machine. You will most likely be in some pain, though it soon gets better for many patients. Pain can also be managed with medication.

After you leave the ICU, you’ll stay in the hospital or in a rehab facility for another several days.

For the average patient, the hospital stay (including intensive care and rehabilitation) after surgery is at least two to three weeks. You’ll have physical and occupational therapy to help you get strong enough to go home.

Recovery occurs on a spectrum and every patient may recover differently.

Life with an LVAD looks different for every patient, and it changes over time. Learn more about living with an LVAD.
“Things are different. I’m used to being more independent and now I depend more on others. But that can bring people closer as well.”
Brenda, LVAD Patient
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