Southern Illinois man first in the region to get new heart assist device

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DONGOLA, IL (KPLR) - 49-year old John Miller, a construction worker from Dongola, Illinois was feeling weak and having trouble breathing. He figured he had pneumonia or the flu. He was stunned when doctors diagnosed him with congestive heart failure last March and told him he would need a heart transplant. They suspect a virus attacked his heart.

It was scary for John and his wife, Laura and they worried he wouldn't be there for their seven kids and three grandchildren.

Doctors tried a pacemaker and medicines, but John says he continued to deteriorate. He and Laura remember he had no energy to do anything around the house and could hardly walk to the bathroom.

John was referred to Washington University in St. Louis and Dr. Gregory Ewald. Dr. Ewald is Associate Chief of Cardiology at Washington U. School of Medicine and co-lead investigator for a pilot study of the HeartMate-3, the latest left ventricular assist device. John was enrolled in the study and became the first patient in this region to receive the new device. It's a blood pump that's implanted above the diaphragm, next to the patient's heart and attached to the aorta. Dr. Ewald points out it doesn't replace the patient's heart but assists it in pumping blood out of the main pumping chamber of patient's heart and out to the body. A drive line attached to the device runs out of the abdomen and hooks up to a controller and batteries that power the pump. John carries the batteries around in a vest. At night, he plugs the drive line into a power pack.

John says he started feeling better within a few days. He now has the energy to drive to the store to go shopping and play with his children and grandchildren. Laura says it's been amazing how it has helped put John back on his feet. They've adjusted to their new lifestyle and things are more normal now even while they wait for a transplant.

This is the third generation of the HeartMate. The HeartMate-2 is widely used now and the pilot study will compare it to the latest version. The HeartMate-3 is smaller and more durable. It shouldn't wear out since there are no touching parts. Researchers believe it's geared for better blood flow and slows down every third beat to let the patient's own heart do some work. They think that could have long-term benefits.

These left ventricular assist devices or LVADS, can be used for long-term care for patients who are not candidates for a transplant, or for a bridge to transplant for patient’s like John Miller. They can provide support literally for years.

John is confident the pump can keep him going until he gets the new heart he needs. He and Laura say they have to make it..for the kids.

Right now, John is one of only 15 patients in five regions around the country that have the HeartMate-3. Dr. Ewald says after the FDA looks at the data from the pilot study, it will expand to clinical trials with hundreds of patients.

Thoratec corporation about the heartmate-3 and clinical trial

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