The Heart Beats On

December 19, 2008 8:39:19 PM PST
1.1 million people suffer heart attacks every year, and many are too weak to live through the stress of major surgery; but a group of surgeons have created a non-invasive device that can take the place of a person's heart while doctors repair the damage. When Richard and Paulette Byard said "I do" 34 years ago, they had no idea how their vows would be tested.

"You marry for better or worse, in sickness and in health," Paulette told Ivanhoe." That's what it's all about."

After years of health problems, Richard's heart simply stopped. His weak body made surgery impossible. Surgeons turned to a non-invasive device to keep him alive.

Doctor David Zhao is one of the masterminds behind the multi-functional percutaneous heart. The system of catheters keeps a person's blood pumping after his heart has given out.

"With this device, we can actually implant an artificial heart without doing surgery," David Zhao, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., explained. "The beauty of this is you can put it in very quickly without causing a lot of trauma to patients."

One catheter goes into a vein in the leg. The other goes into an artery in the leg or arm. The pump sucks the blood out, oxygenates it and then circulates it back into the body. It moves with the patient and buys surgeons precious time.

"You can basically insert it into a patient, and it starts to take over the heart function in five minutes," Dr. Zhao said.

The percutaneous heart kept Richard alive while surgeons cleared his arteries. Days later, his own heart kicked in. Without the device, Richard would have died.

"I guess I'm a miracle man," Richard said.

Recovery is hard, but the Byard's love story will live to see the next chapter.

"It's not the material things," Paulette explains. "It's not a house. It's not a car. It's this ... having somebody you've been with for 34 years still by your side, knows who you are and still hugs you and says 'I love you.'"

Doctors at Vanderbilt Medical Center say the machine has saved the lives of 30 patients over the past year. Patients can stay on the device for up to five days. The device is mobile enough to put on an ambulance or helicopter when needed at an emergency scene. It supports not only heart, but lung function as well.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Marie Hobbs
(615) 936-7378
marie.hobbs@vanderbilt.edu
http://www.vanderbiltheart.com

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