Patients, Families and Medical Team Celebrate 20 years
Patients, families and medical staff from the Artificial Heart Program at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray joined together today to celebrate an amazing medical milestone: 20 years of saving lives.
The pioneering Artificial Heart Program at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute started at LDS Hospital in 1993 when it became the first center in Utah to implant a left ventricular assist device or LVAD.
The program has since implanted 572 devices – life-sustaining LVAD heart pumps that help support a failing heart, and total artificial hearts that replace the native heart – and is now considered one of the premier artificial heart programs in the nation. Only a small number of hospitals in the United States implant total artificial hearts.
Grateful patients and their families joined the program’s medical staff to discuss the impact this technology has had in their lives. Without these devices, these patients would have certainly died.
Among the patients attending the reunion is Gail Rumsey, the first patient in the state to have an LVAD implanted in 1993. Twenty years later, he’s doing great. Also attending: Norm Corbridge, a Provo resident, who’s been living on an LVAD for 2,534 days. He will set the program’s record of longevity next week.
The program got its start at LDS Hospital in 1993, when James Long, MD, PhD, a young cardiothoracic surgeon, assembled an unusual team of three physicians from disparate fields to implant the pumps and manage the care for these patients.
In 1995, the team historically implanted a total artificial heart in Idaho resident Al Marsden. It was the first program in Utah to implant a total artificial heart after the famous Barney Clark case, which was the first such implant in the world. Marsden was supported on the artificial heart for 133 days until a donor heart became available and he was successfully transplanted. Today, nearly 20 years later, Marsden is retired and living in Idaho.
At that time, pumps were being used for only short periods to aid a patient’s heart after surgery. The program began pushing the boundaries of how such devices had traditionally been used — and for how long.
“There were no guidelines back then,” says Brad Rasmusson, MD, a critical care specialist who was an original member of the team, along with Dr. Long and Cris Cowley, MD, an anesthesiologist. “We didn’t know how patients would respond.”
Very well, it turned out.
The program moved to the new Intermountain Medical Center campus in Murray when it opened in Murray 2007.
In the past 20 years, the Artificial Heart Program at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute has been one of the most active centers in the country and is a national leader in extending lives, conducting critically-important research and testing experimental devices that are now being used around the world.
It is one of only a few elite programs across the country that implants total artificial hearts, mechanical devices that replace the native heart entirely, rather than just assist it, while the patient awaits a transplant.
In other milestones, the Artificial Heart Program at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute:
Has implanted 572 total devices (313 long-term and 259 temporary) with patients consistently meeting or exceeding national averages for survival.
Of the long-term devices, the program has implanted 175 devices to bridge patients to a heart transplant, and 129 devices as destination (permanent) therapy
Was the first program in the nation to implant the HeartMate II as a permanent therapy in 2004.
Became the first in Utah to implant a small heart pump called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) in 1993.
Became the first program in Utah to implant the HeartWare HVAD device, the smallest LVAD pump on the market today.
Became the largest participant in a ground-breaking national study on using LVAD therapy as a permanent treatment for patients who were fatally-ill but ineligible for a transplant.
Today, the team has grown from the three doctors to more than 40 people, each with a direct role in the care of nearly every patient who enters the program.
“We use cutting-edge technology and equipment to save lives, but the program is very much about dedicated people caring for patients who very sick and in great need. It’s incredibly satisfying to help these patients regain the lives that they once enjoyed,” says Bruce Reid, MD, surgical director of the Artificial Heart Program at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute.
Patients being cared for by the team suffer from advanced heart failure, a condition that occurs when the heart cannot properly move blood throughout the body. The most common causes for heart failure are diseases that damage the heart, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Doctors manage heart failure with medication and dietary changes, but there is no cure.
Mechanical pumps remove strain from the heart by doing most, or all, of the work. They have become smaller and more durable over the years, and some can even be inserted via a catheter, without the need for a large incision in a patient’s chest. Some remain in place temporarily, while others are permanent for the duration of the patient’s life.
An LVAD does not replace the heart. It is a mechanical heart pump that assists the left side of the heart in pumping blood, nutrients, and oxygen to the rest of the body. LVADs have both internal and external parts. Patients must be connected to battery or AC power at all times.
“This is the most complicated therapy in medicine today,” says Dr. Rasmusson. But he believes the most awe-inspiring thing about his practice is his patients.
“People can come back from such a devastating problem, something that is life-changing for them and their family,” he says. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see them work so hard to get back to their families and the good life they had before.”
NOTE: The Artificial Heart Program at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute will celebrate with a 20th anniversary party bringing together more than 300 former and current patients, family members and staff on Saturday, May 4, at 6 p.m., at the Doty Education Center at Intermountain Medical Center, 5121 S. Cottonwood Street, Murray. News media is invited to attend.