Imagine a heart pump that can fit in the palm of your hand.
“Similar to a hydraulic pump, it takes the blood from one place, and it puts it into another. So it takes the blood from the left ventricle, which is the main chamber that pumps the blood, and takes it through the valve and puts it in the aorta, which is artery which then distributes the blood.”
Cardiologist Doctor Raed Al Dallow says the Impella device is relatively new, and is being used through the Prairie Cardiovascular program in southern Illinois. The pump, which is about the diameter of a pencil, is inserted through a catheter in the femoral artery - meaning a much less invasive procedure for the patient with better outcomes, according to Dr. Al Dallow.
“When we utilize devices that are inserted through the femoral artery, through the groin area, in a similar manner to the performance of a cardiac catheterization procedure, the smaller the device is the less risk is there, on the patient, in terms of bleeding or in terms of causing injury to the blood vessel that we use to insert the device.”
Doctor Al Dallow says the need for a pump like this is relatively rare – only about 10% of patients who need cardiac procedures will need it – but having it as an option is important. The pump allows the heart to rest, and in many cases to recover from some form of trauma, whether it’s a heart attack, shock, or other disease which has weakened the muscle. He says it can also help the heart get through the procedure itself.
”Most of the time, when we perform complex stent procedures, they require multiple catheters in the heart, and they sometimes occupy the blood vessel. We need to help the heart function well during this period of time.”
The pump gives the muscle a chance to recover itself. Some patients have it implanted for a day or two, others just for a few hours or just during their procedure. Dr. Al Dallow says the upgrade in technology means safer, less invasive options for patients of almost every shape and size:
“Different patients have different sizes of blood vessels. So in previous iterations where the device was large, you occasionally run into a situation where the patient’s blood vessels are just too small to accommodate the device.”
Which meant a greater chance that a surgical procedure would be needed to implant a device or connect a larger pump to the heart, just to help get a patient through another procedure or to get the heart ready for whatever was coming next.
In addition to being easier on the patient, with less risk and better outcomes, the smaller pump also has shown to have a financial benefit. Studies have shown the pump saves patients and hospitals money, as it can keep the need for invasive surgeries down.
Dr. Al Dallow says while there are still many devices on the market which will do the job, he’s glad to have the choice of using this tiny pump to help his patients get back on their feet - and he’s hopeful for what technological advances may be coming in the future.
“I think we’re all glad that we have options. All cardiologists are happy that we are now able to treat patients that just a few years ago we weren’t able to treat, or we had to treat with bulkier devices that require surgical insertion – there is a little bit of a higher risk of infection in that case. So it is one of those advances in science that benefits all mankind that technology has led to better devices, smaller devices, and safer devices.”