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UPMC Artificial Heart Program

Artificial Hearts and Ventricular Devices (VADs)

In 1985, UPMC surgeons implanted the nation's second Jarvik Artificial Heart as a bridge-to-transplantation. In 1990, UPMC became the first medical center to discharge a patient on a ventricular assist device (VAD).

Today, we continue to pioneer the use of mechanical circulatory support devices, treating more than 1,300 people, and making our Artificial Heart program one of the most active program of its kind.

Meet Our Patients

Heather Blum

Heather Blum - Heart Arrhythmia

While on a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), Heather's failing heart regained strength and she was able to avoid a heart transplant.

Read more.

About the UPMC Artificial Heart Program

From implanting the Jarvik Artificial Heart in 1985 to today's advanced circulatory support devices, the UPMC Artificial Heart Program continually sets the standard in technological innovation and clinical excellence.

Continuing innovation

Our clinicians are always working to develop new ventricular assist device (VAD) designs and improve existing designs, and we've applied this research to improving both patient survival and quality of life after implantation.

Our program has served as a national training center for medical centers implementing certain VAD programs. To date, approximately 60 centers throughout the United States have sent teams of specialists to Pittsburgh for training exercises led by Artificial Heart Program staff.

Technological access

Researchers and clinicians in the Artificial Heart Program partner with the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a world-renowned organization that develops therapies to re-establish function in tissues and organs impaired by disease, trauma, or congenital abnormalities. This partnership gives our surgeons access to the latest in VAD designs.

We're also studying new short-term left and right heart support devices that can be implemented through minimally invasive approaches.

Our work

Over the years, we've developed effective ways of working with VADs and the people who need them.

We've refined our techniques and protocols to function with the utmost efficiency, and our comprehensive approach has produced an objectively impressive measure of success.

Our doctors, engineers, and researchers work with other members of the care team to:

  • Manage acute cardiogenic shock
  • Improve VAD assessment standards for patient candidacy
  • Refine criteria for appropriate VAD selection
  • Manage patients after VAD implantation
  • Identify cardiac recovery
  • Develop weaning protocols for mechanical circulatory support (MCS) devices
  • Educate and manage VAD patients in outpatient settings
  • Assess new VAD technologies

Watch Videos

Our Experts: UPMC's Artificial Heart Program Team

The Artificial Heart Program at UPMC includes a multidisciplinary team of some of the best minds in the world in cardiovascular health.

From the day you first meet with us until the day you are discharged (and beyond), we will work with you and each other to arrive at the best treatment decisions.

We don't treat hearts — we treat people.

Cardiac surgeons

Our team of heart surgeons provides the knowledge and skill necessary for patient selection, device implantation surgery, and postoperative care.

Cardiologists

Biomedical engineers

VAD clinical staff

  • Kelly Brissenden, PA-C
  • Amanda Hopwood Brophy, PA-C
  • Kate Davis, DNP, AGACNP-BC
  • Taylor Glassbrenner, MPAS, PA-C
  • Courtney Koukal, MPAS, PA-C
  • Bethany Skosnik, MPAS, PA-C

VAD nursing coordinators

  • Sierra Branscomb, BSN, RN
  • Nicole Kunz, BSN, RN, CCTC
  • Kathy Lockard, MBA, RN, CCTC
  • Sybil Moore

Additional team members

  • Nurses
  • Occupational therapists
  • Palliative Care
  • Pharmacists
  • Physical therapists
  • Respiratory therapists
  • Social workers
  • Technicians

Learn More About the Roles of the Artificial Heart Program Team

Cardiac surgeons

  • Evaluate patients to determine whether they are eligible for a ventricular assist device (VAD) or for heart transplantation.
  • Perform the donor and transplant operation.
  • Manage any surgical decisions.

Cardiologists

  • Manage patients' medical treatment.
  • Provide support throughout the entire process of implantation or transplantation.
  • Participate in the selection of suitable VADs and stabilize patients before surgery.

Biomedical engineers from Procirca, a UPMC program

  • Help and support hospital staff members who care for patients on VADs.
  • Perform routine checks on the devices.
  • Help transport patients to and from medical tests.

VAD nursing coordinators

  • Provide care before, during, and after a patient receives a VAD.
  • Assess the patient's physical condition.
  • Explain the risks and benefits of assist devices and advise patients about any complications.
  • Help educate patients and families about VADs.

Physical therapists

  • Evaluate the patient's ability to walk and exercise.
  • Set treatment and rehabilitation goals after VAD implantation.
  • Develop home exercise programs to improve the patient's physical condition.

Occupational therapists

Evaluate the patient's ability to perform the activities of daily living, such as getting dressed, preparing meals, and other tasks.

Respiratory therapists

  • Evaluate the patient's respiratory care needs before, during, and after implantation of a VAD.
  • Administer medications, inhalers, and breathing exercises to help the lungs become strong.

Technicians

  • Support patients who have a temporary device, known as an intraoperative balloon pump (IABP).
  • Transport VAD patients to surgery.
  • Perform routine checks on VAD and assist the biomedical engineers.

VAD Referral Checklist

When referring patients to the VAD Implantation Program at UPMC, please call our 24-hour physician referral line at 1-800-544-2500 and include the information listed below.

Demographic summary

  • Patient name
  • Patient date of birth
  • Patient phone number
  • Patient social security number

Clinical information

Pertinent medical records if available, including:

  • Recent H&P, or clinic note
  • Echocardiogram
  • Stress test/left heart catheterization
  • Most recent lab work

Insurance information

  • Name of subscriber
  • Subscriber’s phone number
  • Identification number
  • Group number

Referring physician information

  • Referring physician name
  • Referring physician phone and fax number

For non-urgent referrals, call the UPMC Advanced Heart Failure Center at 1-844-876-2432 (UPMC-HEART).

Artificial Heart (Left Ventricular Assist Device)

A left ventricular assist device (LVAD), also called a heart pump, is an implanted device that helps your heart pump blood to the rest of your body. These devices are commonly used for people who have a weakened heart muscle or end-stage heart failure.

LVADs serve different purposes, depending on your health and needs.

Short-term: Sometimes used during heart surgery to protect the heart or as support to strengthen the heart after damage from a heart attack or other heart event. Your doctor will remove the device before you leave the hospital.

Bridge-to-transplantation: An LVAD keeps the heart pumping blood while you wait for a heart transplant.

Destination therapy: An LVAD keeps oxygenated blood flowing through your body long term. Your doctor may recommend this option if you are not a candidate for a heart transplant.

The goal of an LVAD is to extend life and improve quality of life for people suffering from end-stage heart failure.

Experts at UPMC specialize in the use of minimally invasive techniques for the implantation of LVADs. They have found that using this approach can lead to excellent clinical outcomes, including reduced postoperative bleeding, a shorter stay in the hospital, and improvement in overall survival.

What to Expect

Before surgery

Getting an LVAD implanted requires major surgery. Your doctor will recommend several tests, such as imaging exams and blood tests, to determine if an LVAD is right for you.

Your doctor will review the risks and benefits of the procedure, as well as what device is best for you. Your care team will also tell you how to prepare, not only for surgery, but also for life with an LVAD.

Having an LVAD requires lifestyle changes. You will need to take certain precautions to care for the device and take medications, such as blood thinners. Your doctor will discuss what to expect during and after surgery before you have the procedure.

During surgery

Most LVADs require open heart surgery, although minimally invasive techniques may be an option in some cases. Your doctor will talk with you about whether the procedure can be performed using minimally invasive techniques.

On the day of your surgery, you will have general anesthesia, which means you will sleep through the procedure. A ventilator will help you breathe. A heart-lung bypass machine will maintain blood flow to your body throughout the surgery.

An incision will be made in your chest to access your heart. The surgeon will implant the device and ensure it is working before closing the incision. On average, the surgery lasts about four to six hours.

After surgery

After the surgery, you will spend time in the intensive care unit (ICU) and will likely need ventilator support as your body adjusts to the new device. The ventilator helps you breathe as you recover.

When ready, you'll move into a hospital room, where your care team will help you prepare to go home. The length of stay may vary for every individual patient, but you may spend two to three weeks in the hospital after surgery. During this time, you'll learn how to care for yourself and your device.

When you're able to go home, plan to have a family member or caregiver available to help you for a few weeks. It's important that you follow all instructions for maintenance, medications, exercise, and healthy eating. This will ensure you get the best results with your new device.

Life with an LVAD

You will need to care for the device and lead a heart-healthy lifestyle. Your doctor may recommend cardiac rehabilitation to help you grow stronger and learn healthy habits.

With an LVAD, you will need to avoid:

  • Contact sports
  • MRIs
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol
  • Swimming, baths, hot tubs, or other places where water surrounds you

Types of LVADs

Whether you require an LVAD for a short amount of time or as a more permanent solution, there are several devices available to be implanted.

Temporary

  • Impella®
    • Very small heart pump
    • Can be inserted percutaneously or by using small incisions. Doctors can then advance the device to the heart through an artery.
    • For temporary in-hospital use to protect the heart during surgery, such as during stent placement, recovery after a heart attack, or as a bridge to another therapy.
    • "Unloads" the left ventricle by pulling blood and releasing it into the aorta.

Durable

  • HeartMate 3®
    • Connected to the left side of the heart and moves oxygenated blood from the left ventricle to the rest of the body.
    • Comes with a system controller which powers the LVAD and can fit inside of a pocket.
    • Gentle blood handling minimizes complications.
    • Intended to provide long-term support to the heart in patients with end-stage heart failure.

 

Contact the UPMC Heart Transplant Program

For more information about heart transplants, LVADs or to make an appointment for an evaluation, visit the UPMC Heart Transplant Program website, call 412-648-6202, or email cttransplant@upmc.edu.

Impella® is a trademark of ABIOMED, Inc.

HeartMate 3® is a trademark of Abbott.

Contact the UPMC Artificial Heart Program

Patients

We welcome your questions and comments and hope to help in any way that we can.

  • Call us at 412-802-8664 and ask for the artificial heart nurse or engineer on call.
  • If you have misplaced the call schedule, please call the hospital switchboard at 412-647-2345 and ask the operator to page the artificial heart technician.

Physicians

Physicians may call UPMC's 24-hour physician referral service at 1-800-544-2500 or 412-647-7000 to:

For non-urgent referrals, call 1-844-876-2432 (UPMC-HEART).

Location

UPMC Artificial Heart Program
561 Scaife Hall
200 Lothrop Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Phone: 412-802-8664
Fax: 412-647-6059