Heart device pumps blood if heart stops

Impella device keeps patients with weak hearts alive during heart surgery.
BAKERSFIELD, CA - A device being called a 'heart within a heart' is keeping patients alive while they're on the operating table. Heart surgery is dangerous for patients with weak hearts, and the brain can only survive three minutes without blood flow. The small device allows the blood to keep pumping, even if the heart stops.

Victor Matlock's heart has put him on the operating table a few times.

"I used to move hay, truck, and trailer loads by myself," said Matlock. "So, you could say I was active, but then one day I felt kind of weird."

He went to a cardiologist the following day.

"She put me on a treadmill and I must have walked for a minute," said Matlock. "She yanked me off that treadmill, put me in a wheelchair, and shot me up with morphine."

Matlock has had a bypass and two stints put into his heart. On Wednesday, he was on the operating table at Bakersfield Heart Hospital to have an artery rebuilt. Doctors, however, feared Matlock's heart was too weak to undergo the surgery without assistance.

"He had previous bypass surgery and the bypasses failed," said Dr. Brij Bahmbi. "Now, repeating the bypass surgery carries much higher risk. Using Impella in this patient makes a lot of sense because it'll provide us the protection if anything bad happens."

Impella is a device doctors thread through the heart's left ventricle. A motor will continuously suck blood from the left ventricle and filter it back out into the aorta. It pumps for the heart.

"This artificial heart will give us support and time to deal with emergencies," said Bahmbi. "If we're able to put in a stint, we'll be finishing this procedure in 45 minutes and he'll go home tomorrow."

Bakersfield Heart Hospital was one of the first on the west coast to use the Impella back in 2008. Fifty surgeries were successfully performed with it, but it only functioned at half the patient's normal heart rate. This latest model functions at 100 percent.

After surgery, Dr. Bahmbi said Matlock's blockage was 100 percent cleared.
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