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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.


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.


  • 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.


  • 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)

Several models of ventricular assist devices (VADs) — also called artificial heart devices — exist.

Selecting the best mechanical heart device for your condition depends on many criteria, such as:

  • Blood type
  • Medical history
  • Presence of a bleeding disorder
  • Body size

Devices provide left, right, or both left and right heart support.

Your doctors will know which one is right for you. In some cases, your condition will dictate your doctor's decision.

Types of Left Ventricular Assist Devices

Abbott HeartMate™ II

Heartmate 2 model of ventricular assist device.
  • Continuous flow device. Implanted pump is about the size of a D-cell battery.
  • An impeller spins at high speeds to provide blood flow up to 10 liters per minute.
  • Provides support for the left side of the heart.
  • Suitable for smaller patients.
  • Highly mobile; you are typically discharged from the hospital.
  • Has been implanted in more than 2,000 patients in the United States.
  • Types of therapy: approved for bridge to transplantation; currently in clinical trials for use as destination therapy.

Abbott HeartMate™ 3

HeartMate 3 model of ventricular assist device.
  • Continuous flow centrifugal device.
  • Can pump up to 10 liters per minute of blood.
  • Currently in clinical trials for use as bridge to transplant and destination therapy.

HeartWare® Ventricular Assist System

HeartWare model of ventricular assist device.
  • Helps your weakened heart pump blood by removing blood from the left side of the heart and pumping it into the aorta.
  • Pump rests inside the chest with a cable exiting the skin that connects to an externally worn controller.
  • Battery-pack-powered controller operates the pump and can provide you with signals and alarms concerning the system’s operation.
  • Controller and batteries are contained in a carrying case worn around your waist or over your shoulder.
  • Types of therapy: approved for bridge to transplantation

™ ® The above product names are registered trademarks of:

  • HeartWare International Inc.
  • Abbott

Contact the UPMC Artificial Heart Program


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 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).


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