YOUR HEALTH: Illinois scientists say new heart pump could keep patients alive longer

CHICAGO, Illinois –Scientists at the University of Chicago are testing a first-of-a-kind pump to help the heart.  It’s one that doesn’t require a la...

CHICAGO, Illinois –Scientists at the University of Chicago are testing a first-of-a-kind pump to help the heart.  It's one that doesn't require a large incision or a lengthy hospital stay.

It's just what the doctor ordered for Terry Fiebelkorn.

"I'd love to get back fishing. It's my way of relaxing. It just totally transforms you."

Transformation is nothing new for the 65-year old 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.

"It creates kind of a shell, and it won't expand like it's supposed to."

About 100,000 people every year are diagnosed with advanced heart failure.

Dr. Valluvan Jeevanvndam and his University of Chicago team developed a device for patients like Terry with advanced heart failure.
It's called the NuPulse Intravascular Ventricular Assist System or I-VAS.

"It is a balloon that rests in the descending aorta, and it inflates when the heart relaxes, and it deflates when the heart pumps," explained Dr. JeeVanAndam.

While the heart is relaxed, the pump keeps working, and adds a second 'pulse,' improving circulation, while giving the heart a rest.  Unlike an I-VAD 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," said Dr. JeeVanAndam.   "It's very similar to putting in a pacemaker, for instance."

Terry's NuPulse pump can be turned on and off.   The batteries and software are inside the external drive.

For now, he's grown used to the pulsing sound of the machine helping his damaged heart.

Although the NuPulse I-VAS was designed for long-term support, right now it it's 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.

BYPASS SURGERY: In some cases, the coronary arteries become lined and blocked with plaque and this is what causes heart failure.   Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery involves the use of a blood vessel graft to bypass the blocked arteries and restore normal blood flow to the heart muscle.   The graft goes around the clogged artery or arteries and forms new pathways for the blood to flow to the heart.   The blood vessel grafts usually come from the patients` own arteries and veins in the chest, arm, or leg. Your doctor can determine if your heart failure is caused by coronary artery disease and if this kind of surgery is the right choice for you.   Patients with heart failure have an increased surgical risk during CABG surgery, but new strategies before, during, and after the surgery have decreased the risks and improved outcomes.  (Source: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/12905-heart-failure-surgery)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.