Heart patients are given a lifeline

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:00am


A new device that helps the heart pump blood is being implanted in patients while they wait for a heart transplant.

Since August last year, five patients with end-stage heart failure have had the ventricular assist devices implanted. All five have been able to resume daily activities.

The device has been a lifesaver for those in the long queue for a donor heart - three patients on average die while waiting - but it is expensive.

The model used in the five operations - Heartmate II - costs between HK$1.2 million and HK$1.3 million. Donations were used up in the first three VAD implants, so the last two patients had to pay for themselves.

A year ago the operation to implant the VAD took 10 hours, but this has now been cut to six hours.

Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam has implanted the device in five patients to act as a bridge to a future transplant. The Sanatorium and Hospital in Happy Valley had implanted one VAD as a final step to treatment without any need for a transplant, the hospital's Dr Subid Ranjan Das said. He said the device was most effective when the patient was not already in a dire state.

Santosh Kumar Jain, 58, received the device three weeks ago. He used to be bedridden and emaciated because of nausea, but he can now walk and talk. 'I have something which helps me get on with my life,' he said.

There is a drawback: patients with the device cannot submerge themselves in water. 'I like swimming a lot,' Jain said, adding that he also liked to take baths at least twice a day.

His daughter, Neha, said: 'If he can walk and talk, then he can sacrifice this much ... On August 2, it was my birthday and he got so bad. So my only wish was that he'd get better - and he did.'

The device takes over 90 per cent of the heart's blood pumping needs. It does not, however, replace the organ's function. Globally, more than 5,000 patients have received the device, and some patients have survived more than seven years.

The device is charged by an external battery pack, worn by the patient, through a cord. The wound where the cord comes out of the skin must be dressed daily to avoid infection. The battery pack lasts for six to 10 hours, and is supported by a back-up battery that lasts for 30 minutes.


Number of Queen Mary Hospital patients waiting for a donor heart. Since 1992, 188 have needed a transplant and 144 have had one