LVAD and transplant restore young father's health

News Archive February 02, 2012

LVAD and transplant restore young father's health

LVAD and transplant restore young father's health
An artificial heart pump implant followed by a successful heart transplant has allowed Nick Paolino Jr. to return to many of his favorite activities, such as restoring his 1970 Cadillac convertible.

At any given time, as many as 500,000 Americans may suffer from end-stage heart failure, a condition in which the heart pumps blood so poorly that patients can be at significant risk of death within three to six months. An estimated 300,000 Americans annually might benefit from a heart transplant, yet only about 2,000 donated organs are available every year.

“An artificial heart can solve the huge discrepancy between those who need a transplant and the small pool of donor hearts,” said Katherine Lietz, MD, medical director, Heart Failure Device Program, Loyola University Health System (Loyola).
“Widespread implantation of the left ventricular assist device (LVAD), which enables the heart to pump blood effectively, is where cardiac care is headed.”

Loyola is one of about 130 medical centers nationwide that implant LVADs routinely, and is among only a handful in the Chicago area approved by Medicare to use LVADs either as “bridge therapy” (until a suitable donor heart is available) or as “destination therapy” (a permanent alternative to a donated heart).

“Loyola’s multidisciplinary heart failure program offers patients every possible treatment,” said Alain Heroux, MD, medical director, Heart Failure & Heart Transplantation Program, Loyola. “We were the first and busiest heart transplant center in Illinois, and that was the primary treatment we could offer. Now, our specialists meet weekly to identify the best option for each patient, whether complicated or routine."

Loyola will treat 25 to 30 patients with LVADs this year, compared to only five to 10 in recent years. “As these devices become smaller, safer to implant and more efficient, they are proving to be very effective,” explained Jeffrey Schwartz, MD, associate professor, thoracic & cardiovascular surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “We still consider transplantation to be the gold standard, but the time may come when these devices are preferable for certain heart failure patients.

As the disease advances it may become too late for any surgical intervention. “If you cannot walk a block without shortness of breath or are hospitalized more than two or three times in a year, come see us for an evaluation,” Dr. Lietz recommended. “We will work closely with your regular physician.”

Nick Paolino Jr. had been trying to manage his heart failure since he was first diagnosed in 2003. Despite medications and a pacemaker, Nick was becoming seriously ill. Within two weeks of his evaluation at Loyola in October 2010, the Loyola team implanted an LVAD as “bridge therapy.”

“Nick was at death’s doorstep, but the LVAD gave him a second chance at life,” Dr. Schwartz said. “Initially he wasn’t a transplant candidate, so he probably wouldn’t have survived without the device.”

Nick received a heart transplant in May, 2011, three months before his 36th birthday.

“Everyone at Loyola went out of their way to help me and my entire family. They were like an extended family,” recalls Nick. 

Today, he exercises regularly and looks forward to returning to work. He also achieved his biggest goal for the summer: swimming with his 6-year-old son.
“I talk to everyone I can about becoming an organ donor,” Nick said. “They started a donor drive at work and everyone who knows me is signing up. Maybe one day my story will help others.” 

Visit LoyolaMedicine.org/Heart for more information, or call (708) 216-8646 to schedule an appointment.

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