Medical device helps patients in need of new heart survive while waiting for donor

Doctor’s at University of Kansas Health System are using new groundbreaking medical technology that is changing lives. (KCTV5)

Doctor’s at University of Kansas Health System are using new groundbreaking medical technology that is changing lives.

The new device, the Abbot's Heartmate 3, is helping patients in need of a new heart survive while waiting for a donor. In the medical world, it is known as a “bridge to transplant.”

KCTV5 News was in the operating room as the device was implanted into a patient’s body for the first time in our region.

Doctors said the patient, Garen Armstrong, 40, is a prime example of why any sign of heart failure cannot be ignored.

It can strike anyone, at any time, including those who are in the best of health. Because of his health, he was a perfect candidate for the new device.

The device allows blood to pass through the machine using magnets. The benefit is that the blood flow does not touch the inner workings of the motor, resulting in less complications including stroke, which is a common side effect of patients who undergo “bridge to transplant.”

Armstrong said his whole experience has been proof that life can change in an instant.

“I’m just getting ready to go into surgery so my nerves and feelings are all over the place right now. March 3rd ... just 20 days ago, I went to the hospital. I thought I was sick with pneumonia or an ulcer, and they told me the devastating news that I was sick with heart failure. Doctors said only 10 percent of my heart was working and at 40-years-old, three kids and a business ... that’s devastating news,” he explained.

Garren’s job as a roofer and contractor is one you can only do in the best of shape.

Each year he and his company donate roofs to four people in need. Now, he’s on the other side.

“I’m thinking about my family and kids and just getting through this,” Armstrong said.

Doctors told KCTV5 it is still not clear why his heart failed.

Armstrong’s mom and sister spoke with KCTV5 moments after he was wheeled into the operating room.

“Our kids are supposed to be well,” His mom said. “I’m anxious.”

“I was really just flabbergasted. He’s very healthy. Very young. Heart failure was the last thing I had expected," his sister Joleene, a nurse, said.

In the operating room cardiologist Dr. Travis Abicht suited up for a surgery that would last well into the night. KCTV5 was there was they cut open Armstrong’s chest. It took three hours of preparation.

Work before the Abbot's Heartmate 3was even ready to be installed on the left portion of Armstrong’s heart.

The device was brought to Kansas City from St. Louis with another doctor. He was in the operating room from start to finish showing University of Kansas Health doctors how to install the VAD correctly.

The breakthrough with this new device is the magnetic design, allowing blood to pass through without touching any part of the devices interior.

“It’s doing what the failing side of his [Armstrong’s] heart should have been doing all along,” Abicht explained.

After eight hours of surgery, Abicht implanted the device successfully. But only time would tell how well Armstrong would recover. For most patients, it takes close to a week to recover to the point where they’re up to talking and adjusting to day-to-day life.

It’s here where Armstrong’s body shows his true strength.

“The technology here is awesome,” he said.

After two days post-op, KCTV5 visited him again. He was already getting back to doing office work from his hospital bed.

“The whole goal of everything we do here is to give people there lives back to not be hostage to medicine,” Abicht said.

“I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” Armstrong said.

And just two weeks later he was back at home. Armstrong has adjusted remarkably to his new life. He now uses a battery pack to keep his failing heart pumping with the Abbot's Heartmate 3.

The machine allows his heart to function, and Armstrong said he noticed a difference in quality of life right away. He added that with the new device he no longer has a noticeable pulse, because blood flows directly through the machine, rather than pumping.

At the end of March, he donated another roof to a family in need. He said this time around, it offered a perspective change, knowing very well what it was like to be in need of something so important.

Armstrong hopes to have a new heart in the next year, if they find a match. He’s on the transplant list but in the meantime, the device will allow him to continue working and care for his kids as he waits. He, along with the medical team at KU, hope his story serves as inspiration for everyone to be organ donors.

His family said it is important to always be aware of the signs of heart failure as well. Before he was diagnosed Armstrong’s apple watch alerted him to elevated heart rate levels.

He said he thought it was simply acting up, since he felt fine. But now, says patients should take any warning sign that comes your way seriously and get checked out by a doctor as soon as you can.

There are 4,878 of the Abbot's Heartmate 3 devices in use right now. As KCTV5 put this story together, 32 patients reported device malfunction resulting in low blood flow or clotting after surgery. So it does come with risk.

Those issues prompted an FDA recall that now requires patients undergo additional echocardiography testing post-op to ensure it still working properly.

Copyright 2018 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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