June 1, 2008 Cardiologists weave an eight gram pump through an artery in the groin into the left ventricle, where it pumps up to five liters of blood per minute. This temporary device assists the heart as it recovers after surgery, prompting faster recovery.
Not only do patients need rest after heart surgery, so do their hearts! Next, a new device that helps weak hearts heal.
J.J. McCarthy is happy to be moved into his new home, but not long ago, breathing problems would have made even unpacking a box difficult. "I started having some shortness of breath and I went in to get it check out," he told Ivanhoe.
McCarthy learned he had a heart problem and needed bypass surgery, but a delicate heart can take a beating during surgery. "We repair a heart in surgery," Bartley Griffith, M.D., a heart surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, told Ivanhoe. "It's a little bit like we create a bruise and the bruise has to heal in the heart."
Now, to help hearts heal after surgery, cardiac surgeons temporarily implant a new device that helps the heart pump blood, giving it a short-term rest. "It basically can perform the function of two-thirds of the heart, and so we let the heart kind of just hang out and repair itself," Dr. Griffith explains.
The tiny pump fits inside a catheter that is inserted through an artery in the groin leading to the heart. The device then helps pump blood in the left ventricle -- the heart's main pumping chamber. It's designed to support the heart for a week or less after surgery, allowing the heart to recover faster. "I think we can pull more patients through open heart surgery than we ever could before, because we have a powerful tool to assist the heart healing," Dr. Griffith says.
McCarthy needed the pump for just two days after surgery. His heart healed quickly and he was back on his feet. "I think it really shortened my recovery time a lot," McCarthy says. "I was able to get up and around a lot faster."
The heart pump device can pump up to five liters of blood per minute -- about three-quarters of a normal heart's output of seven liters per minute. After the device has done its job, it's removed from the patient.
A PENCIL-SIZED HEART PUMP: The Impella 5.0 weighs just eight grams, but can pump about 75 percent as much blood as a healthy heart. It is intended to allow the heart to rest for a short time following cardiac surgery. The pump assists the left ventricle, pumping up to 5 liters of blood per minute. Doctors insert the pump by threading it from through blood vessels from an incision in the leg to the heart.
THE AMAZING HEART: The heart pumps 5.6 liters of blood through the entire body in roughly 20 seconds; each day your blood travels some 12,000 miles, and your heart beats about 100,000 times. This delivers oxygen and other essential nutrients to the body's cells and organs.
WHAT CAUSES HEART ATTACKS? Heart attack is the leading cause of death in North and South America and in Europe. It is usually the result of prolonged hardening and narrowing of the arteries that direct blood into the heart. When blood vessels are healthy, oxygen-rich blood flows easily to all the muscles and organs of the body.
But if they become clogged by the buildup of fatty deposits on vessel walls, blood can be cut off, killing heart muscle cells. This is called coronary heart disease, and it can lead to heart attacks or strokes. Symptoms of a heart attack include a squeezing discomfort in the center of the chest, pain or tingling in the left arm, shortness of breath, and sometimes a cold sweat, nausea, or dizziness.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.