World’s Smallest Heart Pump Offers New Hope for Heart Patients

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July 21, 2010

Heart Center is First in the Buffalo Area to Offer this Lifesaving Procedure

A miniature pump, so small that it can be inserted through an artery and placed inside the heart within a few minutes, offers new hope to critically ill heart attack and heart failure patients.

Cardiothoracic surgeon John Bell-Thomson, MD and interventional cardiologists, Henry Meltser, MD and Salvatore Calandra, MD, of the Catholic Health Heart Center at Mercy Hospital have become the first physicians in the Buffalo area to offer the new Abiomed Impella 2.5 catheter-based heart pump to patients in need of this lifesaving device. Considered the smallest heart pump in the world, the ventricular assist device (VAD) replicates the natural function of the heart by assisting the heart’s main pumping chamber to drive blood through the body.

Donald Morrison (right) with his cardiologist Dr. Henry Meltser (left)“This new technology is helping us save lives by providing temporary support for patients who are experiencing advanced cardiac failure or shock in recovering from heart attack or other injury,” said Dr. Meltser. “The device allows the patient’s heart to rest and recover in some cases, or it can sustain the patient’s life for hours or days until a heart transplant or more permanent support device is implanted.”

“We can also use this pump for high-risk, critically ill patients who need to undergo angioplasty or stenting procedures to open blocked arteries,” Dr. Meltser noted.

Kenmore resident Donald Morrison became one of the first patients in the area to benefit from this new technology. Last May, he made a trip to Kenmore Mercy Hospital’s Emergency Department concerned that he had a bad case of the flu that may have turned into pneumonia. The 41-year-old Morrison soon learned that tests showed he had suffered a heart attack and had gone into heart failure. He was quickly transported to the Heart Center at Mercy Hospital where Dr. Meltser was able to implant the Impella heart pump to help stabilize him and restore heart function until he could later undergo open heart surgery.

“I was told that I had only 20% of heart function left and the pump made it possible for me to become strong enough to have the surgery I needed for a LVAD (left ventricular assist device),” said Morrison. “If it wasn’t for Dr. Meltser and this new pump, that gave me the time I needed, I would have been in a lot of trouble.”

Locally, the Heart Center is the only hospital using this new cardiac assist device, according to Abiomed, the company that manufactures the Impella device. The Impella 2.5 pump is inserted percutaneously in the catheterization laboratory (cath lab) via the femoral (leg) artery and threaded up into the left ventricle or main pumping chamber of the heart. It is a brief, minimally invasive procedure that takes the physician just 5 to 10 minutes to perform. Abiomed reports that up to two and a half liters of blood per minute are delivered by the pump from the left ventricle into the ascending aorta, providing the heart with active support five times faster than current industry devices and three to five times more blood flow than the present standard of care.

Traditionally, treatment in the cath lab involves the standard intra-aortic balloon pump, also inserted with a catheter, which has been in use since the 1950s. The Impella 2.5 ventricular assist device, which received 510(k) clearance by the Food and Drug Administration in June 2008, provides a new advanced treatment option that can be implanted in the cath lab unlike most ventricle heart assist devices, also known as VADs, that require open-chest surgery to be implanted.

“It is a significant breakthrough that we can implant the Impella device using a minimally invasive approach in the cath lab and it can pump faster and provide a much greater blood flow than the standard balloon pump,” said Dr. Meltser.

With more than 1,600 U.S. patients treated with Impella 2.5 and over 390 U.S. hospitals currently using the device, the Heart Center at Mercy Hospital adds to the growing number of healthcare institutions that are committed to optimal heart recovery.