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Heidelberg cardiac surgeons implant world's first new DeBakey Heart Assist Device

At the end of July 2009, a team of cardiac surgeons headed by Professor Dr. Matthias Karck, Director of the Department of Cardiac Surgery at Heidelberg University Hospital, was the first in the world to implant the HeartAssist 5 ventricular assist device, the modern version of the DeBakey VAD. The device augments the pumping function of the left ventricle in an especially effective, gentle and quiet manner. The pump weighs 92 grams and is made of titanium and plastic. It pumps blood from the weakened or failed left ventricle into the aorta.

"Following the 3.5 hour surgery, the patient is doing fine," reports Professor Karck. The 50-year-old woman suffered from heart failure that could not be effectively treated with medication. Since a heart transplant was not an option due to medical reasons, the implanted heart pump will now assist her heart permanently.

Bridging the waiting time for a heart transplant

"The heart pump can also be used as a bridge-to-transplant while the patient waits for a matching donor heart," says Dr. Arjang Ruhparwar, senior registrar in the Department of Cardiac Surgery in Heidelberg. When a donor heart becomes available, the pump and the diseased heart are both removed and replaced by the new donor heart.

The DeBakey VAD was first developed in the 1990s in cooperation with NASA by Professor Michael DeBakey, the renowned American cardiac surgeon at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who died in 2008 at the age of 99. The modern version of the device, the HeartAssist 5, is manufactured by US company MicroMed Cardiovascular. It is considered to be a fifth generation VAD because it can be implanted adjacent to the heart and has an exclusive flow probe that provides direct, accurate measurement of blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta. The new miniature device is light, easy-to-handle and can be monitored and controlled externally.

Patients can live a normal life at home

"The new device has great advantages at only 92 g, it is the smallest and lightest approved VAD in Europe that can completely replace the function of the left ventricle and it works very quietly and effectively with a high flow coefficient," explains Professor Karck. Thus, patients are able to live a nearly normal life at home.

In Europe, the HeartAssist 5 has CE Marks for both adult and pediatric use. In the U.S., the HeartAssist 5, formerly DeBakey VAD Child, is the only FDA-approved pediatric VAD. A bridge-to-transplant IDE clinical study is currently underway in the U.S. for adults.


Contact: Dr. Matthias Karck
University Hospital Heidelberg

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