American Heart Association Comment: Heart failure, transplants and LVADS

March 25, 2012 Categories: Advisories & Comments, Heart News
DALLAS – March 25, 2012 - Former Vice-President Dick Cheney, 71, had a heart transplant on Saturday, March 24.  According to the American Heart Association, donor hearts are distributed through the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network of the U.S. government, which distributes organs based on the urgency of need, availability of organs and the location of the patient who is receiving the transplant, usually because of heart failure. Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. The heart muscle compensates by becoming enlarged and pumping faster to keep up with the body’s demand for blood. Eventually the heart and body just can't keep up, and the person experiences the fatigue, breathing problems or other symptoms that are called heart failure.
 
Heart failure can involve the heart's left side, right side or both sides. However, it usually affects the left side first. A heart attack can damage the heart muscle, resulting in reduced ability to pump blood, which often leads to heart failure.
 
Heart transplants are lifesaving procedures that were performed on 2,332 Americans in 2011. Of that number, 14 percent – 332 people -- were over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Wait times for patients can vary from days to months to years depending on matching an appropriate donor heart with the patient.
 
“Although most transplants are performed on younger people, patients over the age of 65 do receive transplants in the United States,” said Mariell Jessup, M.D., incoming president-elect of the American Heart Association, and a heart failure cardiologist at the University of Pennsylvania.
 
According to reports, before his transplant Vice-President Cheney had a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted, which augments the heart’s output using a mechanical pump. “Left-ventricular assist devices (LVADs) have provided us with a highly effective tool to help patients with advanced heart failure. 
 
These devices have revolutionized how we treat patients who used to die before they could undergo a heart transplant.  After receiving one of these devices, patients can go home, get around and enjoy their life in relatively good health, although they might still have significant symptoms.  LVAD devices are most commonly employed as a bridge to transplantation, although in some patients they can be used alone.  Patients with LVAD devices may still have symptoms and continue a guarded prognosis,” said Jessup.
 
While we can do much more than ever before in treating heart disease, it is vitally important for people to understand that heart disease can be prevented in many cases by a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet enough physical activity, avoidance of tobacco smoke and control of factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and overweight,” said Gordon Tomaselli, president of the American Heart Association, professor and director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Division of Cardiology.
 
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The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association receives funding mostly from individuals. Foundations and corporations donate as well, and fund specific programs and events. Strict policies are enforced to prevent these relationships from influencing the association’s science content. Financial information for the American Heart Association, including a list of contributions from pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers, is available at www.heart.org/corporatefunding.
 
CONTACT:  Carrie Thacker at 214-924-0824 or carrie.thacker@heart.org