Cardiac Specialists at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver are First in North America to Implant New-Technology Heart Pumps

Vancouver, Sept. 27, 2007 — Cardiac specialists at St. Paul’s Hospital are the first in North America to successfully perform two breakthrough heart-pump implants in patients with failing hearts using new-generation ventricular assist devices (VADs).
The small but powerful heart pumps, no larger than a few grams, are intended as short-term relief for hearts with declining function or following surgery. They reduce the heart’s workload while providing blood to body organs.

The two procedures were performed about a week apart in mid-August, marking the first time outside of Europe the devices have been used and saving the lives of both patients, whose heart function had reached critically low levels.

Dr. Anson Cheung, Surgical Director of Cardiac Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Assist Device of BC, performed the procedures, assisted in the first case by cardiologists Drs. Ron Carere and Eve Aymong.

The first patient, Carl Smith, a 41-year-old father of four from Cloverdale, was admitted to St. Paul’s with a seriously weakened heart. He had a left ventricular pump weighing just eight grams inserted via a catheter in the groin area and then threaded through an artery to the heart. After five days he was successfully weaned off the device, having regained sufficient heart function to be safely discharged home.

The second patient, a 59-year-old Mission man, received a different version of the same device, a 17-gram right ventricular pump, which was implanted through the chest. The patient had just received a heart transplant but required the device for six days to allow his new heart to regain strength. The patient has since been discharged.

The devices, known by the trade name Impella and manufactured by ABIOMED, Inc., can pump as much as five and a half litres of blood per minute, the equivalent of a healthy heart. They can sustain patients from a few hours to 10 days, until their heart has recovered or is strong enough to be transferred to another means of support.

The Impella pumps are now a standard of care within the St. Paul’s Heart Centre Advanced Heart Failure Program. The devices replace the earlier generation of short-term cardiac support, called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). Similar to a heart-lung machine, an ECMO device continuously pumps blood from the patient into a machine that removes carbon dioxide and adds oxygen, then returns the oxygenated blood to the patient.

ECMO machines are large and unwieldy, requiring 24-hour supervision by a perfusionist, immobilizing patients and putting them at increased risk of stroke, bleeding and restriction of blood flow to the extremities.

The new Impella devices are tiny by comparison, relatively easy to implant, do not require a perfusionist, have fewer complications and allow the patient to be transported easily within the hospital and to and from other hospitals.

The devices do not replace the much larger, long-term VADs, which use technology both inside and outside the body to maintain blood circulation and enable patients to go home with the device for up to a year or more.

The St. Paul’s Advanced Heart Failure Program, which serves all of BC, is funded by the Provincial Health Services Authority and Providence Health Care.

As part of the Providence Heart + Lung Institute at St. Paul’s Hospital, the Heart Centre is BC's most comprehensive referral centre for patients with heart disease, a major teaching facility for cardiac professionals, and a leader in investigating heart disease causes and treatments.

Launched in June 2007, the Providence Heart + Lung Institute at St. Paul's Hospital merges and integrates all of Providence’s heart and lung research, education and care programs under one umbrella. Its mandate is to transform cardiovascular and pulmonary research and care—transferring new care solutions from the laboratory to the clinics and communities to improve the lives of British Columbians.

Providence Health Care is the largest faith-based health care organization in Canada, operating seven sites in Vancouver, BC, including St. Paul’s Hospital, Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, Holy Family Hospital, Marion Hospice, and complex care/residential services at Langara, Brock Fahrni, and Youville sites. Providence provides care in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health.

Contact: Gavin Wilson
Providence Health Care Communications
Pager 604-667-4397
Cell 604-312-4839
Tel. 604-806-8583