Dorsey relied on an LVAD for eight months until his successful
hopes for a total artificial heart (TAH) faded, surgeons worked
to perfect heart transplantation. Today, 86 percent of patients
who receive a donor heart survive for at least one year after
the procedure. More than 70 percent of patients live at least
four years. But the shortage of donor organs continues to
force doctors to seek other ways of mending broken hearts.
The restful break that LVADs give an ailing heart might
be enough to essentially "cure" heart disease in some
nearly two decades, mechanical devices designed to assist,
not replace, weakened hearts have helped people stay healthy
while they wait for an organ donation. Called LVADs, or left
ventricle assist devices, the pumps take the strain off the
left ventricle, the hardest working chamber of the heart,
whose job it is to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the entire
body. Though power cords and vents still jut out from the
patient's stomach, the portable battery power source allows
the person some degree of freedom and mobility.
there is some evidence that the restful break L-VADs give
an ailing heart might be enough to essentially "cure" heart
disease in some people. In August 2000, California-based Thoratec
Laboratories reported that some thirty to forty patients appear
to have recovered from their heart disease while using the
company's L-VAD. The patients, at hospitals around the world,
were implanted with the device while awaiting a heart transplant.
But within 10 to 190 days, doctors found that many of the
patient's heart conditions had dramatically improved, to the
point that they no longer required a transplant or continued
use of the L-VADs.
prepare to attach an L-VAD to a patient's weakened left
was originally thought [heart disease] was completely irreversible,"
says David Farrar, head of Research and Development at Thoratec.
"Now people are starting to work on how to find out who's
going to recover and who's not."
Thoratec estimates as many as five million Americans could
benefit from their device; no longer as a bridge to transplant,
but as a bridge to recovery. FDA approval to use the device
for "therapeutic recovery" is pending.
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