Health Watch: Advanced heart pump comes to Fresno

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It's the world's smallest heart pump and it's saving the lives of patients who were once told, they had no hope. Mobile Medicine rolled into Fresno and parked in front of Saint Agnes Medical Center. (KFSN)

A huge advancement in treating heart disease with a tiny device is now available in the valley.

It's the world's smallest heart pump and it's saving the lives of patients who were once told, they had no hope. Mobile Medicine rolled into Fresno and parked in front of Saint Agnes Medical Center.

Inside the learning lab on wheels, cardiac doctors and their staff received training on a state of the art device called Impella, known as the world's smallest heart pump. "When the heart's failing, this device can keep you alive," cardiologist Dr. Michael Gen said.

Gen is one of the first doctors in the valley to use Impella. The makers of the device brought the mobile lab to the hospital for a day of hands-on training on the implantable pump that's smaller than the eraser end of a pencil.

The pump does the work of the heart in patients whose own hearts are too weak or diseased. "So, if the heart doesn't have the strength to do the pumping," Gen explains "This device suctions and then pumps it to do the same thing that the heart is doing."

It takes only minutes to insert the tiny pump through an artery in the leg. "We then insert this catheter which goes al the way in and it will go all the way up over the wire, into the heart," Gen said.

Doctors can then watch their own procedure in real time, on X-ray monitors. In this demonstration, where water represents blood in and around the heart, you can see the strength of the tiny pump. The Impella is powered by an external machine for as long as the patient needs it, until it's removed for the next phase of treatment or even a heart transplant.

Traci Arbios of Clovis came to the mobile lab to get a look at the device that bought her, life-saving time. In November, she suffered a cardiac event in which her heart stopped, from a hereditary condition that killed her father and grandmother.

So she's thankful for the technology that helped her survive her close call. "It saved my life," Arbios said. "It kept me going for those 24 to 48 hours before they were able to access whether or not I had brain function and how to help me move on to the next step."

The mobile lab travels around the country to train and educate doctors and staff about the Impella device. From Saint Agnes in Fresno, the lab moves on to Visalia to bring the life-saving technology to even more valley patients.

Gen compares the medical marvel to a bit of science fiction that's a life-saving reality in the valley. "It's really remarkable, this is where technology has come," Gen said. "It's amazing in 2016 we have a device where you can thread it through a wire which is slightly bigger than the human hair and over that put it up into the heart and be able to do what we can do to resuscitate people."

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