New heart pump puts the squeeze on stroke

MONTREAL Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a new type of heart assist device that pumps blood by rhythmically squeezing the aorta has been implanted into a patient at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). The new device reduces the risk of the blood clots that can cause stroke because it forms a “cuff” around the aorta, rather than being implanted directly into the circulatory system like conventional heart assist devices. The new pump is part of a clinical trial being conducted at the MUHC. It is the first time the device has been used in Canada. 

“In the absence of a suitable heart donor, artificial hearts are the only choice for advanced heart failure patients who fail standard therapy,” says Dr. Renzo Cecere, Director of the Mechanical Heart Assist Program and Surgical Director of the Heart Failure and Heart Transplant Program at the MUHC. Artificial hearts have come a long way in the past decade, but until now, most still required surgical implantation into the circulatory system in order to pump blood around the body.

“When blood comes into contact with something that isn’t naturally part of the human body, such as an artificial heart, it has a tendency to clot, which can lead to severe complications, such as stroke – the third leading cause of death in Canada,” says Dr. Cecere, who is also Associate Professor of Surgery at McGill University. The new pump, called the C-Pulse, gets around this problem because instead of being implanted directly into the heart, it is installed around the heart, or more specifically around the aorta – the artery that takes blood from the heart to the rest of the body. A balloon inside the device inflates and deflates, pulling blood through the heart. No incisions need to be made on the heart itself or to any major vessels during implantation, so the surgery is less invasive because patients do not need to take anti-clotting medications, such as heparin or warfarin after surgery.

“The new pump has definitely changed my life,” says patient Lauza Légere from Laval. “Before the surgery, I couldn’t even have a proper conversation. I would have to stop talking in the middle of a sentence just to catch my breath.” Due to Ms. Légere’s overall medical condition, she was not a candidate for a conventional heart assist device and her medications were no longer helping her.

Heart failure does not necessarily mean that the heart has stopped beating – it means it is insufficient to meet the needs of the body. As a result, certain patients can even disconnect from the C-Pulse for short periods, in order to shower, rest, and perform other activities. This feature ultimately provides patient’s with improved quality of life. Like other heart assist devices, the C-Pulse can be used to sustain advanced heart failure patients while they wait for a transplant, or as a lifetime solution for their condition.

It is estimated that there are 500,000 Canadians living with heart failure, and that 50,000 new patients are diagnosed each year. Last year approximately 150 heart transplants were conducted across Canada, including approximately 50 in Quebec.


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