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Pumping Devices Prolong Life for People with Heart Failure

separator A recent study has shown that using a heart pump known as a ventricular assist device may be a better treatment for heart failure than some of the most powerful medications. Researchers presented the study results at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association, which took place in November. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Columbia University conducted the study.

Until recently, doctors used the pump primarily to prolong life while patients waited for a heart transplant. The waiting list for transplants is a long one. In 1999 there were 4,000 people on the list, but only 2,200 received transplants. As people have waited for hearts to become available, doctors have seen that the pump prolongs lives longer than expected.

The study comprised 129 patients who were not qualified to have heart transplants either because they were too old or too sick. Results showed that:

  • After one year, 52 percent of those on the pump were still alive, while only 24.7 percent on medications had survived.
  • After two years, 22.9 percent of patients on the pump were alive, and only 8.1 percent of those taking the drugs had survived.

It's important not to confuse the VAD with the artificial heart. Doctors implant the VAD in the abdomen and connect two tubes from the device to a heart ventricle and to the aorta. Another tube goes from the pump to a battery pack that the patient wears on the shoulder. The artificial heart is a complete heart replacement.

The New York Times, 13 November 2001.
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