Monica McFarlan was a runner, a mother of two young boys, and a very healthy 37-year-old woman when she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, associated with viral cardiomyopathy in January 2011.
For the next 3½ months, Monica was in and out of the hospital 11 times for over 45 days. By April, she and her family were told that she needed a heart transplant, and she was put on the transplant waiting list. But because her antibodies were elevated, she had to be taken off the transplant list because of the high risk that her body would reject any donor heart that was given to her.
At this point, her heart was at a perilously weakened state, and because of low blood flow, many of her other organs – like her liver and kidneys – were starting to shut down. With her ejection fraction at just 10%* and no donor heart on the horizon, her doctors presented the option of having a pump called a Left Ventricular Assist Device (or LVAD) attached to her heart – basically her only option for survival.
Almost six months after her heart failure diagnosis, Monica had open heart surgery to attach the LVAD pump to her heart. She is now connected to this lifeline 24/7.
The left ventricle is the large, muscular chamber of the heart that pumps blood out to the rest of the body. A battery-operated LVAD helps maintain the pumping ability of a heart that can’t effectively do this on its own.
Originally called a “bridge to transplant”, LVADs are now used in longterm therapy.
People like Monica who are awaiting a heart transplant must often wait a long time before a suitable donor heart becomes available. During this wait, the patient’s already-weakened heart may deteriorate and become unable to pump enough blood to sustain life.
An LVAD can help a weak heart and buy time for the patient.
A study published in the cardiology journal Circulation in 2005 reported that LVADs may even restore failing hearts in some patients, thus eliminating the need for a transplant.**
MONICA’S UPDATE: In January 2013, two years after her initial cardiomyopathy diagnosis, Monica fainted and fell at her home, sustaining a head injury that required emergency neurosurgery. Along with her ongoing heart health challenges, she now faces limited use of her left side extremities, slowed speech and reduced vision.
If you’d like to help Monica and her family as they face ongoing weekly and monthly costs of follow-up care, medications, and significant recent medical expenses associated with her neurological injury recovery, visit this fundraising site at the National Foundation for Transplants.
UPDATE #2: In February 2014, Monica had her LVAD pump removed (“explanted”) by Dr. David Vega, the same cardiothoracic surgeon who had implanted it two years earlier at Emory Transplant Center in Atlanta. She had a heart attack in October that year and was re-implanted with another LVAD in November.
* Ejection fraction, an indicator of heart health, is the percentage of blood that is pumped out of a filled ventricle as a result of a heartbeat. An EF of 55-70% is considered within normal limits.
** Dandel M, Weng Y, Siniawski H, Potapov E, Lehmkuhl HB, Hetzer R. “Long-term results in patients with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy after weaning from left ventricular assist device.” Circulation. 2005;112(suppl I):I37–I45.
Q: Do you or somebody you care about have an LVAD?