Ventricular Assist Device

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

A ventricular assist device (VAD) is a mechanical device that helps treat heart failure, a condition that occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

At first, doctors often prescribe medications to treat heart failure symptoms. But if medications cannot be tolerated or achieve the desired results, your doctor may recommend a ventricular assist device. A VAD assists the pumping action of your heart and may improve your quality of life.

Improving the Pumping Action of the Heart

The heart is a muscle with four chambers. It pumps blood by squeezing the two lower chambers, or ventricles. When the left ventricle squeezes, it forces blood into the aorta, which is the main artery that takes blood away from the heart to the major arteries of your body.

A VAD, which is implanted into a weakened heart, helps by pulling blood from the ventricle and pumping it to the aorta. The VAD has a line that exits the body. This line attaches to a mini computer, called a controller. This controller is attached to batteries or an AC power source that provides power to the VAD.

A VAD may be used as a bridge (temporary solution) as you wait for a heart transplant. Or it may be used as destination therapy (a long-term solution) if you are ineligible for a heart transplant due to age or other conditions.

A VAD may be placed into the left ventricle of the heart (LVAD), the right ventricle of the heart (RVAD) or both ventricles (BiVAD).

Why Choose Aurora for a Ventricular Assist Device?

Aurora St Luke’s Medical Center is nationally recognized for its VAD program, which is the largest in Wisconsin. Our program has received disease specific certification by the Joint Commission for destination therapy.

Aurora St Luke’s uses an experienced multidisciplinary team to care for patients, which includes:

  • Advance practice nurses
  • Cardiologists and surgeons, who specialize in the surgical treatment of heart failure
  • Clinical engineers
  • Dieticians
  • Other caregivers
  • Physical, occupational and cardiac rehabilitation therapists
  • Psychologists
  • Social workers
  • Transplant RN coordinators

How to Prepare for a Ventricular Assist Device

Patients under consideration for VAD placement require specific cardiac and laboratory tests. Many of these tests may have already been done and will be reviewed by your cardiologist and surgeon. A psychosocial evaluation will be needed. You also may need a dental exam. You may be admitted to the hospital the day before surgery to have any additional procedures or testing.

The clinical engineer will meet with you and your family or friends to demonstrate how the VAD works.

Your physician will review your medications and may ask you to stop taking certain ones 5 – 7 days before the procedure. This may include blood thinners, aspirin and other anticoagulants as well as anti-inflammatory or certain diabetic medications.

Please inform your physician if you have any signs of infection or any recent changes to your health.

On the day of surgery, do not eat or drink anything after midnight.

If there are no complications, you can expect to stay in the hospital for about 10 – 14 days after your VAD placement.

During a Ventricular Assist Device Procedure

Placement of a VAD is major cardiac surgery that’s performed under general anesthesia. It requires an incision along the breastbone and the use of a heart-lung bypass machine. The procedure takes several hours.

The patient will have special intravenous lines inserted and be carefully monitored. Placement of special tubes to drain urine, blood from the chest and stomach may be used. The patient will be on a breathing machine, or ventilator.

As the patient recovers, these tubes will be removed. Vital signs, heart rate and VAD readings will be monitored.

During surgery, family or friends can wait in the surgical waiting room. The surgeon will speak to them after the procedure.

Family and friends are welcome to visit the patient after surgery in the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU).

Recovery after a Ventricular Assist Device Procedure

Following the stay in the cardiovascular ICU, the patient will be transferred to a regular hospital room. Heart rate, rhythm and VAD readings will continue to be monitored.

Physical, occupational and cardiac rehab therapy will be provided during the hospital recovery. Clinical engineers will educate the patient and family or friends on VAD care, operation, and troubleshooting. Nurses will provide additional education on how to care for the driveline site and incision. Either a Clinical Engineer or an Occupational Therapist will provide education on how to shower with the device. Arrangements will be made for any supplies or equipment needed at home.

Following discharge from the hospital, patients will have driving and lifting restrictions. They will not be able to take tub baths or participate in water sports.

An appointment for follow-up care in the Tendick Center for the Surgical Treatment of Heart Failure will be scheduled for the first week after discharge. Continued participation in an outpatient cardiac rehab program is recommended.

Anticoagulation medications, such as Coumadin (warfarin) or aspirin are frequently ordered to prevent clots from forming. Your physician will provide instructions on any other medications, if necessary.

VAD Risks

The risks associated with a VAD implantation are similar to those of any major cardiac surgical procedure. Risks and complications that are specific to VAD placement may include infection, pump malfunction or failure, stroke, bleeding, blood clots and kidney, lung, liver or heart damage.

Nationally Recognized for Heart Failure Treatment

Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center has been treating heart failure by implanting mechanical circulatory support devices since 1986. Only three other Wisconsin hospitals implant these devices. So far, we have implanted more than 540 of them, which is more than these other providers have implanted.

Aurora doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.