Ventricular Assist Devices

ventricular assist device (VAD) is a surgically implanted mechanical heart pump that assists the heart to pump blood throughout the body.

A VAD can be a lifesaving treatment for patients with advanced heart failure. It can help patients whose heart can no longer pump the amount of blood the body needs to work properly.

  • The most common VAD is a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). This helps the left side of the heart pump blood rich with oxygen from the heart to all parts of the body.
  • A right ventricular assist device (RVAD) helps the right side of the heart pump blood in need of oxygen to the lungs.
  • A biventricular assist device helps both the right and left sides of the heart pump blood.

Having more blood pumped through the body helps patients’ organs work better. VADs can help patients:

  • Breathe more easily
  • Feel less tired and have more energy
  • Resume activities

A VAD is a treatment option for patients:

  • With advanced heart failure who are waiting for a heart transplant. This is called bridge to transplant.
  • With advanced heart failure who are not eligible for a heart transplant. This is called destination therapy.
  • Recovering from a heart surgery or heart event, like a heart attack. This is called bridge to recovery.

Experts in VAD Treatment Options

Northwestern Medicine is approved by Medicare and The Joint Commission on VADs to implant VADs. Our highly skilled VAD team has extensive experience with the latest VAD devices and treatments. The specially trained team cares for patients in the hospital and manages ongoing outpatient care. The team includes:

  • Cardiologists
  • Heart surgeons
  • Advanced practice providers
  • Nurses
  • Clinical psychologists
  • Social workers
  • Physical and occupational therapists

VAD Construction

A VAD is a surgically implanted pump that is attached to your heart and is driven by an electrical motor. There are several parts of a VAD:

  • Inflow cannula: a tube that moves blood from the heart to the VAD
  • Outflow cannula: a tube that moves blood from the VAD to the body
  • Controller: a small computer outside of the body that regulates the VAD
  • Driveline: a tube that connects the VAD inside the body to the controller outside the body
  • Power source: batteries outside the body that are connected to the VAD with a cable (or driveline) that enters the body through the skin

VAD Surgery

Having a VAD requires a strong commitment from both the patient and the care team. That is why the Northwestern Medicine VAD team offers its full support through every step of the VAD process.

The VAD team will perform extensive evaluations to tailor VAD care to the specific needs of each patient. This includes the mental health of the patient, their ability to take care of the VAD and the support available to the patient from family and/or friends.

VAD implantation is major heart surgery performed by a heart surgeon. The surgery will take four to six hours. As with any surgery, there are risks. The heart surgeon and the VAD team will talk to the patient about their specific risks.

After VAD surgery, most patients spend as many as five days in the intensive care unit. They then move to another hospital unit. Their total hospital stay can last two to six weeks.

  • The length of time spent in the hospital depends on the patient’s health before surgery.
  • During this time in the hospital, patients and their support team (family and/or friends) will learn how to care for the VAD.

Caring for a VAD

We have a dedicated VAD clinic to help patients manage their VAD after they leave the hospital. Patients will receive a detailed education to ensure they understand:

  • How to use, manage and care for the VAD
  • How to troubleshoot potential emergency situations with the VAD

Patients will return to the VAD clinic for regular check-ups. The care team will monitor their overall health and VAD function. Patients with a VAD will need follow-up care for as long as they have a VAD.

Meet the Downtown Chicago Ventricular Assist Devices Team

Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is a nationally recognized destination for those who require highly specialized cardiovascular care. Meet the Team
Downtown Chicago
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