When someone has advanced heart failure, his or her heart is not functioning properly and can’t circulate enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Scientists in Chicago are testing a first-of-a-kind pump to help the heart; one that doesn’t require a large incision or a lengthy hospital stay.
"I'd love to get back fishing. It's my way of relaxing. It just totally transforms you," said Terry Fiebelkorn.
Transformation is nothing new for 65-year-old Terry Fiebelkorn and his wife Sandy. Right now, the seven-pound box attached to him is helping reboot his system. Ten years ago, Terry survived a heart transplant, but his arteries hardened. Last year, his transplanted heart started to fail.
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"It creates kind of a shell, and it won't expand like it's supposed to," Terry explained.
Dr. Valluvan Jeevanandam and his team developed the cutting-edge mechanical assist device for patients like Terry, with advanced heart failure. It’s called the NuPulse Intravascular Ventricular Assist System or iVAS.
"It is a balloon that rests in the descending aorta, and it inflates when the heart relaxes, and it deflates when the heart pumps," Jeevanandam, Chief of Cardiac Thoracic Surgery at University of Chicago explained.
While the heart is relaxed, the pump keeps working, and adds a second "pulse," improving circulation, while giving the heart a rest. Unlike an LVAD or other assist device, the NuPulse does not require a large incision through bones in the chest.
"It's basically an operation just on the skin. It's very similar to putting in a pacemaker, for instance,” said Jeevanandam.
Terry's NuPulse pump can be turned on and off. The batteries and software are inside the external drive. For now, he's gotten used to the pulsing sound of the machine helping his damaged heart.
Although the NuPulse iVAS was designed for long-term support, it is currently being tested in a clinical trial as a "bridge" to transplant for about thirty days. Doctors say it has been safely used for up to six and a half months. Eventually, researchers say it may be used to support and rest a heart for years until that organ is able to recover.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Field and Supervising Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer and Editor.