The Penn Medicine Difference

For people with heart failure or awaiting a heart transplant, Penn Medicine’s ventricular assist device (VAD) implant specialists are among the most experienced in the nation. The number of procedures we perform each year far exceeds national averages. When you choose Penn for a VAD, you’ll benefit from:

  • Expertise: We successfully match the right device to each person regardless of age, size or gender. Our team has deep experience treating advanced heart failure with VADs.
  • Options: We are the only center in the region to offer every FDA approved VAD.
  • Less invasive surgical approach: We are one of a few programs where experienced cardiac surgeons use a minimally invasive approach to implant VADs in eligible patients, maximizing recovery and postoperative results. Learn more about minimally invasive heart surgery.

What Is a Ventricular Assist Device? 

Ventricular assist devices are battery-operated mechanical pumps implanted in the lower heart chambers (the left or right ventricles) to help the heart pump blood to the rest of the body. While heart surgeons place VADs in either heart chamber (or both) they are most frequently implanted in the left ventricle (LVAD). 

How VADs Work

Penn Medicine offers several types of durable VADs, so your cardiac surgeon can choose the right device for your unique heart needs. Your surgeon implants the VAD through open heart surgery:

  • They place the VAD into the heart chamber that needs support. 
  • The VAD pumps a continuous flow of blood from the heart chamber into a tube connected to the main artery of the body (Aorta) that pushes blood to the rest of the body.
  • The VAD pump is connected to an external computer (controller) via a small cable that passes through skin on your belly.
  • The controller runs the pump and is connected to external rechargeable batteries that are worn as a harness, on a belt or in a bag.

Left Ventricular Assist Device

Doctors rely on LVADs for patients who have end-stage heart failure and aren’t improving with medications. At Penn we offer the HeartMate II™, HeartMate III™ and HeartWare LVADs. For eligible patients, our cardiac surgeons use a less invasive surgical approach called thoracotomy rather than open heart surgery to implant an LVAD. Your cardiologist and surgeon may recommend an LVAD for:

  • Bridge to transplant: While a person waits for a heart transplant, LVADs prevent their condition from worsening and increase survivability until a donor heart becomes available. The person with heart failure enjoys an improved quality of life while they wait for lifesaving heart transplant surgery.
  • Destination therapy: Some people are not candidates for a heart transplant because of certain chronic conditions. When all other treatment options — medications and other heart procedures — are unsuccessful, an LVAD can be used as lifelong support to increase survivability and improve quality of life.

Right Ventricular Assist Device

For a weakened right ventricle, which pumps blood to your lungs to pick up oxygen, your Penn cardiac surgeon may use a temporary or durable right ventricular assist device (RVAD). RVADs are often used to stabilize and help the heart heal after cardiogenic shock or heart surgery. When used this way, the device is considered a bridge to recovery and is temporary. Your doctor may also recommend an RVAD if you have severe heart failure.

Percutaneous Ventricular Assist Device

This devices are temporary and implanted via a catheter placed into a blood vessel, either in the cath lab or in the operating room. Heart surgeons use these devices for up to two weeks to support a weakened heart as a way of bridging people to recovery or another therapy. At Penn we offer Centrimag® VAS, Impella® and TandemHeart®.

Your cardiologist and surgeon may recommend a temporary VAD when:

  • Your heart is weakened and is unable to pump enough blood, resulting in acute  cardiogenic shock
  • They believe you won’t survive being connected to a heart-lung machine 
  • You are waiting for an implantable VAD such as an LVAD
  • You are waiting for a heart transplant

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