ECU cardiologist Dr. Hassan Alhosaini holds a replica of the heart pump.
ECU cardiologist Dr. Hassan Alhosaini holds a replica of the heart pump. (Photos by Rhett Butler) 


ECU offers new life-saving treatment for advanced heart failure

July 6, 2017

By University Communications

Patients being treated for advanced heart failure in eastern North Carolina now have access to a new life-saving treatment option, an implantable mechanical pump that restores blood flow throughout the body. It’s now available for the first time at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. 

Nearly six million Americans live with heart failure, according to the American Heart Association and the Heart Failure Society of America. The ailment occurs when a weakened heart muscle cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s need for blood and oxygen. Treatment can be even more complex in eastern North Carolina due to the high prevalence of cardiac risk factors and underlying health disparities in the region.

Doctors at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU, in partnership with Vidant Medical Center, are now offering an implantable mechanical pump for the first time in our region. The pump restores blood flow throughout the body, significantly improving quality of life and survival for heart failure patients. 

Dr. Hazaim Alwair walks down the hall as he makes his way to his office at the East Carolina Heart Institute.

“Advanced heart failure is a serious medical condition with staggering impact on patients and society,” said Dr. Hassan Alhosaini, an advanced heart failure cardiologist with ECU who leads the team pioneering the pump’s use along with ECU cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Hazaim Alwair. “Eastern North Carolina now has a full spectrum of options to treat advanced heart disease patients close to home.” 

Patients with advanced heart failure often need intervention beyond lifestyle changes and medications. Some patients with the condition are candidates for a heart transplant, but donor hearts are not always available and patients over the age of 65 are typically ineligible for a transplant. Fortunately, recent advances in the field of mechanical circulatory support have allowed for the development of LVAD therapy as a short-term or long-term support option for advanced heart failure patients.  

The pump, called the HeartMate II LVAD (left ventricular assist device), is implanted alongside a patient’s heart and is designed to take over the pumping ability of the weakened heart’s left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart. The device is attached to the aorta, leaving natural circulation in place while providing all of the energy necessary to propel blood throughout the body. An external, wearable system that includes a controller and batteries is attached via an external driveline. A power cable connects the device to a small power unit. 

Not all advanced heart failure patients are candidates for LVAD, according to Alwair, but those with a commitment to the therapy and a support network at home stand to benefit the most from the device.

Walton Jones mows the lawn at his home in Dover, N.C., a few weeks after his surgery.

Walton Jones Jr., of Craven County was the first patient to receive an LVAD implantation at Vidant Medical Center. Diagnosed with heart failure in 2008, he was experiencing a major decline in his functional capacity and quality of life by the time he received the LVAD implant in May. 

Today, Jones says he is enjoying a remarkable improvement in his quality of life, one that would have been impossible without this innovative therapy. 

“I feel much better. I feel good. My memory is coming back and my strength is coming back,” he said. “I knew I wanted more time. They say there have been people with ten years [added to their life because of LVAD therapy], so whatever I get beyond a year, I’ll be happy.”

Jones added that the ability to receive the implant in Greenville reduced his time away from home, gave him better access to family support and cut costs.

For more information about LVAD therapy, contact the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU

(Video by Rich Klindworth)