LVAD Bridge to Heart Transplant After Chemo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Scott Fitzgerald survived lymphoma in 1999. Thirteen years later, his doctors told him the chemotherapy that kept him alive was now causing his heart to fail. He wasn’t healthy enough for a heart transplant, so his medical team used a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD.

Scott’s dream of becoming a chef didn’t look possible just a few years ago. He developed cardiomyopathy despite taking medication to regulate his heart rate and control swelling.

“I was having problems breathing when I’d walk. I could go 20 feet and I’d start breathing hard. It would be difficult,” Scott told Ivanhoe.

Scott was too sick for a heart transplant, so his doctors turned to an LVAD to keep him alive.

Tom Heywood, MD, Scripps Clinic, Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, said, “We put in a mechanical heart, which was about a five-ounce pump that we put in the heart to help unload the heart and pump blood into the aorta.”

LVAD patients wear an external battery and control unit, but the current system is smaller and more efficient than previous models. A national center for biotechnology information study shows the LVAD more than doubled one year survival rates.

Scott shared, “I had more energy. It wasn’t 100 percent. It was probably 75 percent better than what it was. I had my life back. The LVAD made a huge difference.”

With the help of the LVAD and a gastric sleeve, Scott lost 65 pounds and got his heart transplant.

Dr. Heywood stated, “When he got the transplant, he was quite healthy because of the pump. He recovered.”

Dr. Heywood has a message for other heart patients… "We want to let people know that there’s a large amount of hope, and that we can treat heart failure very effectively and in fact, cure it in many cases.”

Despite the road map of scars on his chest, Scott says life gets better every day.

The LVAD does come with risks like stroke, infection, and malfunction, and it is expensive at about 85,000 dollars. Cancer drugs causing heart problems later in patients’ lives is a growing concern. Scripps Health is developing a cardio-oncology clinic. Patients could get echocardiograms and blood tests to monitor their heart function during or after chemo.

Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Producer; Bruce Maniscalco, Videographer; and Roque Correa, Editor.