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Health and Medicine

Exploradio - The whirring heart
The Cleveland Clinic's Innovation Summit looks at the business of heart care, but the keynote speaker will share his experiences as the nation's most famous heart patient.
This story is part of a special series.

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
The HeartMate II LVAD, or Left Ventricular Assist Device is what's keeping former Vice President Dick Cheney alive. He'll be in Cleveland Wednesday to talk about life as a heart patient.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
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For people with severe heart disease, a small motor implanted in the chest can take over for a heart that’s ready to give out.  It’s a 20 year-old technology that’s suddenly gaining attention thanks to one very famous patient.

In this week’s Exploradio, we look at a life without a pulse.

Exploradio - The whirring heart

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The steady rhythm of our beating heart is with us from before we’re born until the day we die.

But this –  [whirring noise ]  --  is the sound of a heart’s helper.  It’s called the Left Ventricular Assist Device.  Last summer, surgeons inserted one of these in the chest of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney will be in Cleveland this week to talk about life with the device at the Cleveland Clinic’s innovations summit.

Cheney’s life-saving measure brought recent notoriety to the technology. But cardiac nurse Tiffany Buda says she’s seen the device improve steadily since the early 1990’s.

“The devices we were using before were the size of my hand and thick…about an inch and half thick. You can imagine that being inside somebody’s abdomen and them trying to bend, and eat, and tie their shoes.”

Today’s ‘heart helper’ is a bell-shaped metal pump, weighing almost a pound and about the size of a D-cell battery.  Nurse Buda demonstrates how it’s used.

“I’m going to make some noise when I plug it in … “

Once placed inside you, the pump’s power cord snakes through a hole under your ribs.  That plugs into a rechargeable battery pack that lasts about 8 hours.  Once this device takes over, it can never stop.

“It’s just a gentle whirr.  You would have this implanted, and I wonder if you would miss your heartbeat?”

“After surgery they see the heartbeat and rhythm, and you can feel it, but the pump is providing the blood flow.”

Buda says the Left Ventricular Assist Device can dramatically improve the quality of life for someone whose heart is about to give out - a person at the point of what she calls, ‘destination therapy’ …

“They’re limited walking across the room, they’re getting short of (breath). It’s a big deal to walk down the driveway to get the mail. So if we can take those symptoms away and they can walk a block and walk up the stairs, and feel like going out to lunch with friends, and do some traveling, then we have given them some quality.  So hopefully they can do some of the things they want to do in the time that they have.”

The current technology can extend a heart patient’s life two to five years before it wears out. Then, he or she gets a transplant, or replaces the unit.

The Cleveland Clinic’s corporate venturing arm is hosting the Innovations Summit starting today. It focuses on the business of heart care.  As one of the nation’s most famous heart patients, Former Vice-President Dick Cheney will be the keynote speaker Wednesday.


I’m JSTC with this week’s Exploradio.


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