VAD FAQs

What is an LVAD?

LVAD stands for Left Ventricular Assist Device. It is a mechanical device that circulates blood throughout the body when the heart is too weak to pump blood on its own. It is sometimes called a "heart pump" or "VAD." HeartMate II is a miniaturized implantable LVAD that represents a breakthrough in medical technology and has rapidly become the most widely used device of its kind in the world.

Dr. Craig Smith - What is a left ventricular assist device (LVAD)?

Dr. Hiroo Takayama - What is a left ventricular assist device (LVAD)?

What are the risks associated with LVADs?

Dr. Craig Smith - What are the risks associated with LVADs?

Dr. Hiroo Takayama - What are the risks associated with LVADs?

How long does the surgery take?

The surgery to implant an LVAD usually takes approximately four to six hours.

What happens after surgery?

Most patients feel better immediately after surgery due to increased blood flow.

After surgery you will be closely monitored in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU) and depending upon your condition, may remain there for anywhere from one day to one week.

At NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia you will be taken care of by a multidisciplinary team. From day one, your treatment will be overseen by a cardiac surgeon, a cardiologists, intensivists from the ICU, a pharmacologist, LVAD nurses and nurse practitioners, and social worker, and later a nutritional counselor and a physical therapist. This will ensure that you receive the highest level of integrated care.

The length of time that you remain in the hospital will depend upon the pace of your recovery. The hospital stay for those receiving assist devices is steadily decreasing and now varies from 14 to 42 days, after implantation.

Dr. Hiroo Takayama - What happens after an LVAD is placed?

What medications will I take?

If your natural heart is still working and the pump is only assisting, not replacing it, you will resume your usual cardiac medications, such as ACE inhibitors, diuretics, and betablockers.

A majority of patients are already receiving anticoagulants. If you are not already taking an anticoagulant, it will be added to your regimen. Patients also receive a multivitamin, iron and potassium supplements, and an anti-reflux medication.

What happens during physical therapy?

You will learn to walk on a treadmill and also learn to do stairs if you will have to navigate them at home. You may also do light weights and upper body exercises.

Will I be able to go home with the LVAD?

Some cardiac assist devices allow you to go home, while others require you to stay in the hospital.

At the present time, patients with Centrimag®, Tandem Heart™, Impella Recover and ECMO devices must remain in the hospital. Patients with the Total Artificial Heart, the Thoractec® VAD, HeartWare®, and HeartMate® II can be discharged home.

What kind of help will I need?

We educate your spouses and caregivers, teaching how to change the dressing around the drive line that connects the device to its power source. Patients and their families also learn how to maintain and care for the device, changing batteries as needed.

Will I be able to take a shower?

The HeartMate® II device has special shower pack but you'll need special instruction in how to use it. You will not be able to take a shower with any of the other devices. We suggest using a handheld showerhead to target parts of the body that are not connected to wires.

Will I be able to have sex?

Once you have recovered from the surgical procedure to implant the device, you should be able to engage in sexual activities. You will need to avoid positions that interfere with the exit site or cause any tension on the driveline exiting your body. You should discuss any concerns with your physician.

What activities can't I do?

You won't be able to go swimming. And you'll need to avoid contact sports or activities such as jumping or running that could dislodge the driveline.

Will wearing a device be painful?

Some patients experience irritation from the dressing tape. Be alert for pain or redness, or new drainage from the site. This is considered abnormal and you will need to call your physician immediately.

Will I be able to work?

Your ability to work will depend on the type of device implanted, the kind of work you do, and your overall health. You will need to discuss your general activity level with your physician.

How long do the devices last?

Some of the long-term devices can support patients up to ten years, while the short-term devices can support a patient up to 30 days.

What are the potential complications?

Possible complications include bleeding, infection, and, in some cases, stroke.

What happens if a device malfunctions?

If a malfunction occurs, it will be evaluated and managed appropriately by your team of physicians. When a device needs to be replaced, we consider the patient's condition at the time.

What can I expect in terms of quality of life and what improvements will I see?

A 2010 study of our Destination Therapy patients showed a 73% improvement in functional capacity (measured by a six minute walk). Destination therapy patients also improved by 75% on the Trail Making Test of neurocognitive function, and reported a 75% improvement in quality of life, six months after implantation.

Learning About the HearMate II® LVAD

What is an LVAD?

LVAD stands for Left Ventricular Assist Device. It is a mechanical device that circulates blood throughout the body when the heart is too weak to pump blood on its own. It is sometimes called a "heart pump" or "VAD." HeartMate II is a miniaturized implantable LVAD that represents a breakthrough in medical technology and has rapidly become the most widely used device of its kind in the world.

Is HeartMate II an Artificial Heart?

No. HeartMate II is not an artificial heart, nor is it a heart replacement. The patient's native heart is not removed. HeartMate II attaches to the heart and is designed to assist — or take over – the pumping function of the patient's left ventricle – the main pumping chamber of the heart.

How does HeartMate II work?

HeartMate II is designed to take over the pumping function of the patient's left ventricle. The device is placed just below the diaphragm in the abdomen. It is attached to the left ventricle, and the aorta, the main artery that carries oxygenated blood from the left ventricle to the entire body. An external, wearable system that includes a small controller and two batteries is attached by an external driveline. The wearable system is either worn under or on top of clothing.

How does HeartMate II help a heart failure patient?

HeartMate II is designed to restore blood flow throughout the body, enabling the patient to breathe more easily and feel less fatigued. The patient's organs will receive more blood than they did before receiving the LVAD, and this will likely improve their organ function. After receiving an LVAD, patients generally feel more energetic and are able to resume normal activities that they were unable to do prior to receiving the device.

How active can patients be with the HeartMateII?

Because patients are in a severe stage of heart failure before receiving the device, they are very debilitated and typically very limited in terms of activity level. After receiving HeartMate II, the majority of patients can return to their favorite daily activities, with the primary limitation being water immersion. Many patients are able to return to work and resume hobbies that they haven't been able to do for years.

How is HeartMate II used?

HeartMate II may be used to support patients and improve their quality of life while they wait for a donor heart to become available. This is known as "Bridge-to-Transplantation." It may also be used as a permanent option for patients who are not eligible for heart transplantation, due to age or other medical conditions. Usage of the device in this manner is known as "Destination Therapy." Without this therapy, advanced heart failure patients would have extremely poor prospects for survival and a very limited lifestyle.

Is HeartMate II a good treatment option for advanced heart failure patients?

Yes. HeartMate II is considered a standard of care in cases of advanced heart failure. Studies have shown that advanced heart failure patients treated with an LVAD can live longer and enjoy a muchimproved quality of life compared with those being treated with drug therapy alone.1 There are approximately 50,000 – 100,000 advanced heart failure patients who could benefit from an LVAD in the U.S.2

How long can HeartMate II be used?

Studies on HeartMate II started five years ago and there are patients who have been supported for that entire period of time.

How long do the batteries last?

The latest generation of batteries used to support LVADs may last up to 14 hours before needing to be recharged.

Who can get a HeartMate II?

Patients suffering from advanced heart failure and who have exhausted the limitations of medical therapies may be candidates to receive a HeartMate II. Due to the device's ability to allow the patient's heart to rest and take over the pumping function, it has been shown that the LVAD provides the opportunity for a weakened heart to regain some of its own function. Patients should consult a physician to find out if they are a candidate for LVAD therapy.

How many patients receive heart transplants and how many are ineligible for transplants?

Though transplants offer hope for approximately 2,000 advanced heart failure patients each year in the U.S., over 250,000 patients have no viable treatment option and are considered at high risk for repeated hospitalizations, poor quality of life and even death.3

Does someone with a HeartMate II still have a pulse?

A patient who is implanted with a HeartMate II usually has a dampened pulse. The reason for this is that HeartMate II moves blood from the heart to the body continuously along with the heartbeat. The "strength" of the patient's pulse will depend on how much assistance the LVAD is providing to the heart.

Is HeartMate II FDA approved?

Yes. HeartMate II is the only continuous-flow LVAD that has been approved for both Bridge-to- Transplantation and Destination Therapy.

How big are LVADs?

LVADs vary in size, but the HeartMate II - the smallest of all the FDA-approved LVADs - measures approximately 3 inches in length and weighs approximately 10 ounces.

Where can I get an LVAD?

There are more than 250 centers worldwide that are implanting HeartMate II. For a list of centers visit: http://www.thoratec.com/patients-caregivers/about-heartmateII.aspx

How many people have a HeartMate II?

More than 8,000 people have received HeartMate II since 2005.

See our VAD Patient Stories for a description of our patients' lifestyles post-implant.
  1. Advanced Heart Failure Treated with Continuous-Flow Left Ventricular Assist Device. Slaughter, M.S., Rogers, J.G., et al. N Engl J Med. 2009 Dec 3; Vol 361:2241-2251
  2. American Heart Association, HeartMate II: A Reliable Destination; Feb. 2010
  3. Advanced Heart Failure Treated with Continuous-Flow Left Ventricular Assist Device. Slaughter, M.S., Rogers, J.G., et al. N Engl J Med. 2009 Dec 3; Vol 361:2241-2251