North Texas

Heart Keeps Pumping Thanks to Impella

When a patient has a heart attack, doctors are working against the clock. Often their heart is too weak to pump enough blood. Cardiologists in major U.S. medical centers are taking part in the National Cardiogenic Shock Initiative. That study is evaluating the best way to use a tiny pump as wide as a straw, to keep patients alive.

Heart attack patients are at the greatest risk of losing their lives in the first critical minutes.

Brian O'Neill, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine from Temple University said, "If a patient is having a very severe heart attack, we're tasked with having the patient in the cath lab and having the artery opened within 90 minutes."

But what happens during those 90 minutes? Traditionally, it's been a high dose of IV of drugs to regulate blood flow and pressure.

Val Rikita, MD, Advanced Heart Failure Cardiology, said, "Ironically, these medicines are somewhat toxic to the body and to the heart, specifically. It's akin to flogging a horse that you're trying to ride and you're trying to get that last ounce of strength out of it."

That's because the infusions are derivatives of adrenalin. But Temple University doctors are establishing protocol for a new device called the Impella pump.

Dr. Rikita explained, "This device lets the heart rest, as opposed to flogging it, allowing the best chance of recovery after the balloon and the stent are performed."

The tiny Impella pump is temporarily inserted through the groin to stabilize blood flow, giving the interventional cardiologist time to deploy the permanent stent to keep the artery open.

"The catheter goes across the left ventricle like this and it sits and allows the blood to be sucked from the left ventricle and injected into the aorta, which is the largest chamber of the heart. This device will allow us to support those patients and keep them stable during the procedure because what can sometimes happen during the procedure to open a blocked artery, they can become very critically ill on the table and potentially suffer cardiac arrest," said Dr. O'Neill.

Temple was one of 65 hospitals involved in studying the protocol, which took place over three years, primarily treating older males with heart disease. The Impella pump is FDA-approved and at least one doctor involved in the protocol predicts it could raise the survival rate in heart attack patients by 80 percent.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Donna Parker, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer and Editor.

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