Garen Armstrong seemed like a pretty healthy guy. 40 years old, three kids and a business to run, he was leading a very active life. But one day something didn’t feel right so he went to the doctor, expecting to find it was pneumonia or an ulcer. He was shocked when the doctor told him he had heart failure, and only 10 percent of his heart was working. He was going to need a heart transplant. That was the bad news. The good news is doctors told Garen he was a candidate for a new device that would help him get better almost immediately and live a nearly normal life until he was able to find a new heart.
The device, installed by the heart team at The University of Kansas Health System, is a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), and the newest version implanted in Garen is the HeartMate 3. An LVAD is a surgically implanted mechanical pump that is attached to the heart. An LVAD is different from an artificial heart. An artificial heart replaces the failing heart completely whereas an LVAD works with the heart to help it pump more blood with less work. It does this by continuously taking blood from the left ventricle and moving it to the aorta, which then delivers oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
After the procedure, the difference was night and day for Garen. He says he didn’t realize how poorly his heart was functioning because it was a gradual process, and doctors told him his body compensated because he was so young and healthy. Garen is looking forward to resuming normal activity, feeling better, as he waits for a new heart.
In the video, Dr. Travis Abicht, the heart surgeon with The University of Kansas Health System who implanted the LVAD, describes how it works and how Garen was doing both before and after the procedure. Dr. Abicht also says in some cases, the LVAD is a permanent solution for those patients not eligible for a transplant.
Next, Garen is interviewed before his LVAD procedure, and talks about how he felt about getting the “devastating news” about his heart. Then, after his procedure, Garen talks about the huge difference in how he feels, and how he’ll be able to resume a normal life while waiting for a transplant.
Garen’s mother, Roxie Armstrong, and his sister, Joleene Miller, both talk about noticing Garen’s failing health and urging him to get help. But they both say they were as shocked as Garen to find out about the poor condition of his heart. Both say Garen is like a whole new person after the procedure.
Also on the video, Dr. Andrew Sauer, medical director of heart transplant and the advanced heart failure program at The University of Kansas Health System, says the LVAD program is now nationally number one in two areas. First, its patients have the lowest length of stay after the implant, and second, the program has the lowest mortality index…meaning every patient in the last year who has received an LVAD, has gone home.
The video also includes TV-friendly shots from the implant surgery, and animation provided by the device’s maker, Abbott, showing how the LVAD works.