What Is LVAD Surgery?
Left ventricular assist device (LVAD) surgery is a procedure to place a durable mechanical heart pump into a poorly functioning heart. LVADs help your heart’s lower left chamber (ventricle) pump blood if you have advanced (end-stage) heart failure.
How to Prepare for LVAD Surgery
LVAD placement is a major, open-heart surgery. You will need to prepare to spend several weeks in and near the hospital. You may need to arrange for someone to pick up your mail, care for a pet, or manage other household needs if you have not already.
Our team will spend time with you before surgery to help you understand what life is like with an LVAD. The device requires electricity, so you will have a cord outside your body that needs to be plugged into a battery pack. This may change how you perform some of your day-to-day activities, such as showering.
A full team that includes a care coordinator, social worker, and psychologist will work with you before surgery to ensure you are prepared.
During the Procedure
You will receive intravenous (IV) anesthesia so you remain asleep and pain-free during the procedure. You will be connected to a ventilator to help you breathe. You also may be connected to a heart-lung bypass machine, which temporarily does the work of your heart and lungs until surgery is complete.
To implant the LVAD device, surgeons will need access your chest cavity either through the breast bone or through the side of your ribs.
The LVAD machine includes a metal cylinder placed in your left ventricle. That cylinder connects to a flexible tube that sends blood to your aorta, the main artery that pumps blood to your body. Your surgeon will place a cord beneath your skin that connects the device to a battery pack and control unit outside your body.
How Long Does LVAD Surgery Take?
The length of LVAD surgery varies significantly and takes many hours. Every patient is different. The length of surgery will depend on several factors:
- Your heart function
- Your overall health
- Whether you’ve had prior heart surgeries
Find an LVAD Surgeon
LVAD Surgery Risks & Complications
LVAD surgery has the following potential risks:
- Blood clots
- Problems with the LVAD device
- Right-sided heart failure
Ideally, your surgeon will bring your breastbone together and close the incision (cut) immediately after placing the LVAD device. But sometimes they will need to take other measures to manage your risks:
- Your surgeon may place a temporary machine in your right ventricle to assist your heart function over several days or weeks.
- Your surgeon may leave the breastbone open with surgical packing and gauze for a short period of time to lower your risk of blood clots around your heart.
- Your surgeon may perform other procedures to improve your heart function, such as repairing a leaky heart valve.
LVAD Surgery Recovery
You’ll stay in the intensive care unit (ICU) for around five to seven days after LVAD surgery. After you leave the ICU, you’ll stay in the hospital for an additional week or two depending on your medical needs.
You’ll be able to move around and walk before you return home and you will start cardiac rehabilitation while you are still in the hospital.
You’ll return to see your surgeon about once a week for three to four weeks after you leave the hospital. You will have follow-up phone calls with your care team for the first two to three weeks after surgery.
Then you’ll see your surgeon once every two weeks until you are stable. You’ll continue outpatient cardiac rehabilitation for several weeks or months.
Life Expectancy After LVAD Surgery
LVAD surgery can significantly increase your chances of survival if you have advanced heart failure. When looking at all patients that receive an LVAD, two-year survival rates are around 70%. When advanced heart failure is treated with medical therapy alone, two-year survival rates are around 10%.
LVAD Surgery Cost
Many insurance plans cover LVAD surgery with low out-pocket-costs. Our team will discuss the costs of an LVAD with you before surgery.
Does Medicare Cover LVAD Surgery?
Medicare covers LVAD surgery for patients who meet certain criteria related to their heart failure. Our team will help you find out whether Medicare will cover your procedure before moving forward with surgery.
The VAD team will continue to monitor you closely after your surgery. If you do not live close to Salt Lake City, we will help you transition back to the care of your local primary care provider and cardiologist. Our team will provide VAD-specific education to your community.
As long as you are living with the VAD, we will continue to follow your care and be available 24/7 for any concerns and questions you have.
Why Choose University of Utah Health?
U of U Health has a long legacy of excellence in heart failure care and continues to be involved in groundbreaking innovations. LVAD therapy is one of the advanced treatments we offer through our renowned Advanced Heart Failure Program. Your care is in the hands of cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, and researchers who pioneer leading-edge therapies and advance heart failure care to benefit patients worldwide. Doctors nationally and internationally recognize us for our expertise in heart pumps and heart failure care.
Each year, people travel from throughout the Mountain West region and beyond to receive comprehensive care with our team. Our experts educate other physicians in LVAD care and have created an extensive shared care system where we partner with cardiologists in more than 20 states.
Meet Our Patients
Two patients, Jarvis Russell and Violette Gubler, share their experiences living with an LVAD.
After Six Years of Living with Mechanical Heart Pump, Patient Receives the Ultimate Gift
Stephen Love suffered a massive heart attack in 2016. The incident left him severely injured with poor odds for survival and an uncertain future. His cardiac team determined he would benefit from the implantation of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) until he could get a heart transplant. Without the LVAD, Love's health would rapidly decline, leading to an early death.