Houston heart center marks historic milestone

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - More than six million Americans suffer from heart failure, and with the shortage of donor hearts, thousands will die waiting for a donor.

But, mechanical heart pumps are saving lives, and nowhere is that happening more than right here in the Texas Medical Center.

Last year, Terri Ross' heart was failing.

"I couldn't breathe," said Ross. "I was in very bad shape."

The wife and mother of two is a breast cancer survivor, but chemotherapy took a toll on her heart.

She was airlifted from Boca Raton, Florida, to Houston where Director of Cardiopulmonary Transplantation with Texas Heart Institute Dr. O.H. Frazier implanted a left ventricular assist device or LVAD.

"I truly believe that I would not be here if I didn't have this device implanted," Ross said.

St. Luke's Medical Center and Texas Heart Institute are marking an important milestone having implanted the 1,000th LVAD. That's more than any other hospital in the country.

"Well, I think it's very important because it represents such a legacy of sacrifice, work and courage," said Dr. Frazier.

The LVAD is a mechanical heart pump that can be a bridge to a heart transplant or provide long-term support by allowing the heart to recover to normal function.

For patients like Ross, it is their lifeline.

"I can exercise every day," Terri added explained. "I can do the treadmill and I can do the bike and things, so I can do just about anything."

She is doing so well, Dr. Frazier expects to remove the device in three to six months.

"If you rest the heart, then many times it will improve enough and now particularly with these smaller pumps that we use, we can more easily extract them or remove the patient from the pump support and we've done this is a number of cases and I think for the majority of the younger patents that should be our goal rather than heart transplants," Dr. Frazier explained.

So what does the next decade of mechanical pumps look like?

They're getting smaller and less invasive, giving patients improved outcomes and quality of life.

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