On the day of her discharge from Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital, 72-year-old Nancy walked spryly back to her room after breakfast, eager to pack and return home after seven weeks of hospitalization. Slung around her shoulder was a pack weighing about five pounds, containing a device that is her life force, keeping her failing heart pumping.
Nancy is one of the first people in the Lehigh Valley to receive a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) at a local hospital. An LVAD is a mobile, battery-powered pump that helps the left ventricle of the heart pump blood to the aorta, and from there, to the rest of the body. The device can be used to sustain the heart temporarily when a person is waiting for a transplant, or indefinitely in people who are not good candidates for heart transplants.
Due to her age, Nancy falls into the latter category. In the early fall, Nancy visited her physician when she found she could barely walk a few feet without getting out of breath. She was also having memory problems. Her cardiologist determined that she was in heart failure and medication could no longer control her condition. But her doctors were able to offer her hope in the form of a mechanical pump.
“I didn’t know what an LVAD was when the doctors first told me about it,” says Nancy. “But it was super exciting, and after discussion with my husband and three daughters, I chose to go through with the implantation procedure despite the risks of surgery. I want to be around for my family, including my seven grandchildren.”
The pump was surgically implanted in her heart and connected by a cable inserted through an incision in her abdomen to a control unit worn in a pack. At night, Nancy connects to a larger unit that is plugged into a wall outlet to maintain a constant power source.
After the implantation surgery, which proceeded without complications, Nancy was weak from her heart condition, surgery and time spent in the hospital. Her physicians recommended that she continue her recovery at Good Shepherd. She particularly needed to work on improving her hand strength to be able to manage the device, from monitoring and switching batteries to changing dressings – one wrong move can have life-threatening consequences.
A nurse for most of her life, Nancy has confidently adapted to the device, and with the help of the nursing and therapy staff at Good Shepherd as well as her family, she has made great strides in her recovery: She is now walking and handling the device with ease.
“The staff at Good Shepherd was caring, considerate and very professional,” says Nancy. “And, most importantly, they encouraged me to do as much as I could for myself.”
For more information on Good Shepherd's programs and services, call 1-888-44-REHAB (73422) or contact us .