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Ventricular Assist Device (VAD)


Getting Back to Life With Ventricular Assist Devices

Advanced heart failure can cause you to lose energy, give up activities and, in some cases, lose hope.

At Aurora Health Care, we’ve returned hope to over 900 people with a ventricular assist device (VAD). A VAD takes over the heart’s work of pumping blood to the body. Today, VADs let people get back to the things they love to do – from farming to riding a motorcycle to spending time with loved ones.

World-Class Care

A Leader in VAD Placement

We’re known throughout the United States as experts in heart failure therapies. In any given year, we use artificial heart pumps to provide expert care for more than 50 people.

People and their doctors choose Aurora Health Care for VAD placement because we offer:

  • Experienced surgeons: Over the life of our program, our surgeons have implanted over 900 artificial heart pumps. In addition to VAD implantation, we perform a large number of heart transplants. Our combined number of heart transplants and VAD implantations puts us among the top 10 programs in the world. That means our experience in heart surgery is nearly unmatched. Learn more about heart transplant.
  • Minimally invasive techniques: Some people require open heart surgery to place a VAD. We’re also experts in innovative techniques to perform VAD implantations with minimally invasive approaches. When these approaches are possible, you’ll have a smaller incision and simpler recovery.
  • Excellent results: Doctors measure the result of VAD implantation by how long a person lives successfully with the VAD. Our patients consistently do better than expected by national organizations that measure VAD results. Meet our cardiovascular and thoracic team.
  • Research and clinical trials: We’ve been part of nearly all of the clinical trials, or tests, of artificial heart pumps over the past 30 years. That means that when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves a new device, we probably already have experience with that device. As a result, the people we treat receive expert care from the moment a new VAD is available. Learn more about our clinical trials and cardiovascular research.

How VADs Work

Understanding Ventricular Assist Devices

A VAD is a mechanical device that helps treat advanced heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.

A VAD may be:

  • Temporary: Sometimes, a VAD is a temporary solution (bridge) while you wait for a heart transplant. A temporary VAD can also support your heart as it heals after a heart attack.
  • Permanent: A VAD may be a long-term solution for people who aren’t eligible for or don’t want a heart transplant. In this case, the VAD may be called “destination therapy.”

The Parts of a VAD

A VAD has several parts, including:

  • The pump: This mechanical element, attached to the heart, does most of the work of the VAD. Read below about specific types of VADs.
  • The driveline: This tube connects the pump to a power source outside your body. It travels through the abdomen (belly) and comes out through the skin on the right side of your body. Your VAD team will teach you how to care for the spot where the driveline comes out.
  • The controller: This mini-computer stays outside the body and attaches to the VAD via the driveline. It controls the pump’s actions and tells you if the VAD has any problems.
  • The power source: Some VADs are powered by a battery pack that lets you move around. At night, you’ll plug the VAD in to a power source. Your VAD team will explain how to make sure your VAD always has enough power.

Types of VADs

Depending on the type of heart condition you have, we offer several types of VADs, including:

  • LVAD: A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) pulls blood from the left ventricle (lower heart chamber) and pumps it to the aorta, the main artery of the body that carries oxygen-rich blood to the body. An LVAD is the most common type of VAD.
  • RVAD: A right ventricular assist device (RVAD) takes blood from the right ventricle and pumps it to the pulmonary artery, the blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the lungs to pick up oxygen.
  • BiVAD: A BiVAD device supports both ventricles of the heart, connecting each to its respective artery.

What to Expect

What to Expect From Your VAD Procedure

Before your VAD surgery, you’ll have several appointments to make sure you’re ready physically, mentally and emotionally.

These appointments may include:

  • Medical exams: You will have cardiac (heart) and lab tests. You may need to stay in the hospital for some of this testing.
  • Meetings with counselors and financial advisors: Our team will talk with you, your family and your caregivers to make sure you understand all that is involved with a VAD. We’ll also help you understand the financial costs of getting and living with a VAD.
  • Learning about the VAD itself: You’ll also meet with a clinical engineer so you can see how the VAD works.
  • What to Know About VAD Surgery

    Getting a VAD placed is major cardiac surgery that takes several hours. Your doctors and their team will give you specific instructions on how to prepare for the procedure.

    The day of surgery includes:

    1. Anesthesia: You will need general anesthesia for the VAD placement. You’ll be asleep before the procedure starts.
    2. Surgery: The surgeons use the smallest incision they can to place the VAD. Some people have a small incision, while others have a larger opening, depending on individual needs.
    3. Activation: The surgeons will connect the VAD to your heart and start it working before you wake up.

Recovering After VAD Implantation

After your surgery, we’ll make sure your new artificial heart pump is working smoothly. We’ll also prepare you and your family to care for yourself when you return home.

Your recovery will include:

  1. Healing: After your surgery, you’ll go to the cardiovascular intensive care unit. Later, we’ll transfer you to a regular hospital room while we continue to monitor your heart rate, rhythm and VAD readings.
  2. Therapy: While you stay in the hospital, you’ll get physical, occupational and cardiac rehab therapy. These activities will build your strength and help you become comfortable with your VAD.
  3. Education: Our team of VAD experts, called clinical engineers, will educate you and your family on VAD care, operation and troubleshooting. You’ll learn how to care for the driveline site and incision, including how to shower with the device.
  4. Preparation: If you need supplies or equipment at home, we can arrange for that. You may have to take anticoagulation medications, such as warfarin or aspirin, to prevent blood clots.
  5. Follow-up: A week after you’re home, you’ll come back to the Tendick Center for Advanced Heart Failure Therapies for a follow-up appointment. After that, your doctor will let you know how often you need to come in.

We recommend that you sign up for a cardiac rehab program. Cardiac rehabilitation will help you regain your strength so you can get back to your normal activities.

We offer cardiac rehab at many locations throughout eastern Wisconsin. Find out more about cardiac rehabilitation.

Contact Us

Learn More About VADs

To make an appointment or get more information, please call 866-292-6668.

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