New heart pump helping chance of survival

HARLINGEN — The man clutches his chest.

Pain has seized him, his blood pressure is dropping, and he knows the end is near. He’ll either die from the massive heart attack or he’ll walk out a free man.

A new heart pump which recently came into use is helping physicians increase a patient’s chance of survival. It’s called the Impella, and it enables physicians to keep blood pumping through the body while performing emergency angioplasty.

Local medical professionals viewed a presentation of the Impella yesterday. Human models lay on tables equipped with hearts and arteries and large screens with bright red jagged lines were mounted on walls. Another screen showed an animated image of the human body. The translucent image floated rapidly in different positions. Sometimes the small heart expanded to reveal its inner parts. Nearby, an image showed a catheter bearing the pump sweep in a quick arc through the thoracic cavity and into the heart

Taiwo Ajayi watched with great intrigue as a demonstrator placed a catheter into the artery of a model, feeding it through the man’s groin toward the heart. The pump was part of the catheter.

“I am actually looking to be a cardiology nurse,” said Ajayi, a nursing tech at Valley Baptist.

“The heart is a very significant organ,” he said. “I think it’s very amazing.”

He appreciated the increased efficiency the pump offers to physicians.

“It can help physicians figure out what’s going on with patients in cardiologic shock,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Since the Valley Baptist Medical Center began using the device about a year ago, 21 lives have been saved.

Dr. Charles Mild, medical director of the catheterization laboratory at Valley Baptist, could not say if those lives would also have been saved using strictly the angioplasty. However, the device improved their chances and physicians are glad they can keep blood flowing while performing emergency angioplasty.

“Most of the time with a heart attack the reason is it’s a weak pump,” said Mild, who is also the vice chief of staff at the hospital.

“It’s kind of like your car,” he said. “If you have a chink in the gas line, your engine won’t develop power. So what we try to do with an angioplasty is open up the blood supply so the heart has power again.”

Angioplasty is basically using balloons to open up clogged arteries. A healthy heart must fill with blood which it then pumps into the body. It pumps four to five liters of blood per minute. It’s in a rapid cycle through the body which then passes back through the heart.

“If it fills up and it’s not getting enough blood to pump it, then it dams up in the heart,” Mild said. “This pump takes that excess blood and sucks it out. It puts it in the aorta with a little pressure to distribute it to the rest of the body. The Impella takes work away from the heart so we can work on the heart.”