Ventricular Assist Devices

ventricular assist device (VAD) is a mechanical device, or heart pump, that circulates blood throughout the body of a patient with heart failure, whose heart is too weak to pump blood on its own. A VAD contains a small electric motor that drives the pump. A left ventricular assist device (LVAD or LVAS) pulls blood from the left ventricle of the heart and delivers it to the aorta, and then out to the rest of the body.

VADs are designed to restore blood flow throughout the body, allowing the patient to breathe more easily and feel less fatigued. With a VAD, the patient’s organs will receive more blood than they did before surgery, which will likely improve their function. After the surgical implantation of a VAD, patients should feel more energetic and can resume normal activities. Many patients are able to return to work and resume hobbies that they haven’t been able to do for years.

Experts in VAD technology and surgery

Northwestern Medicine is approved by Medicare and the Joint Commission on VADs to implant ventricular assist devices as bridge therapy (to safely support a patient awaiting a heart transplant) or destination therapy (for patients ineligible for a heart transplant).

Our highly skilled and experienced cardiac surgeons work as a team with cardiologists, nurses and other staff who coordinate in-hospital care and outpatient management. We have a dedicated VAD clinic that coordinates outpatient VAD management.

The VAD construction

There are three parts to a ventricular assist device:

  • A small round pump, weighing about one pound, is attached to your heart. It boosts the flow of blood to your body. Blood is pulled out of your failing left ventricle and pumped into the ascending aorta, the large blood vessel exiting the heart.
  • A small electronic computer controller regulates how the pump works.
  • Batteries, carried outside your body, are connected to the pump with a cable (or driveline) that enters your body through the skin. The battery system is either worn under or on top of your clothing.

The VAD implantation procedure

VAD implantation is major heart surgery, and requires a strong commitment from both the patient and the care team. Some patients can find the concept of receiving a VAD scary or intimidating. That is why the Center for Heart Failure team offers its full support through every step of the VAD implantation process and post-surgical care.

Before surgery, we will perform extensive evaluations so we may tailor your surgical experience to your specific risk factors and needs.

A cardiac surgeon will implant your VAD in a four- to six-hour surgical procedure, during which you will receive general anesthesia. As with any surgical procedure, there are risks. Your physician will talk with you about your specific risks and what steps will be taken to minimize them.

After the VAD is implanted, most patients spend as many as five days in the intensive care unit. You may stay in the hospital anywhere from two to eight weeks after the pump is implanted. During this time you and your family will learn how to care for your VAD.

Will a VAD improve your heart function?

VADs can help many people with advanced-stage heart failure, who are not responding to conventional therapy

  • VADs are commonly used to safely support a patient while they wait for a heart transplant, also called bridge therapy.
  • We sometimes use VADs to support patients with end-stage (Stage D) heart failure and who are ineligible for heart transplant, also called destination therapy.
  • Occasionally, young people who receive VADs can achieve full heart function recovery at which time the VAD is removed.

How long will my VAD last?

The amount of time a VAD will provide support to your heart varies, depending on a few factors:

  • The type of VAD system you receive
  • The purpose of implanting the VAD
  • Your specific medical condition

Often, patients can experience support from the current generation of VADs for up to 10 years.

Returning home and caring for your VAD

We offer a detailed education program for you and your caregivers to ensure safety and proper use and care of your VAD. You’ll learn how to manage the device and troubleshoot potential emergency situations.

The length of recovery time is highly variable, but it generally takes a few weeks to recuperate from the implantation procedure. To some extent, recovery will depend on your physical condition before surgery.

You will return to our clinic for regular check-ups to monitor VAD function and your overall health. The vast majority of VAD recipients feel better after surgery, especially those who commit to a lifelong self-care program that improves their diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors.

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