World’s smallest heart pump saves 500 lives in Jacksonville; doctor wants patients to know their options

Instead of open-heart surgery, cardiologist Dr. Samer Garas says the Impella heart pump provides a noninvasive alternative for patients.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The world’s smallest heart pump is keeping patients alive on the First Coast. Ascension St. Vincent’s has completed 500 procedures using the device, which provides an alternative to open-heart surgery.

Imagine a tube with a device at the end that can keep your heart pumping while surgeons fix your heart noninvasively. Doctors at Ascension St. Vincent’s are getting data that proves this is a safe alternative for patients at all risk levels.

”Walking as well as riding a stationary bike became increasingly more difficult,” 75-year-old Richard Goodman said. “I went through a period of denial I think.”

Goodman works on a construction site as a safety professional.  A few months ago, he was in the hospital for heart failure. 

Dr. Samer Garas, the medical director for the cardiovascular service line at Ascension St. Vincent’s, saved Goodman’s life using the world’s smallest heart pump.

“It assists the heart in pumping blood,” Garas explained. “Especially in cases where the heart is weak and requires support.”

In cases where open-heart surgery would have been the only option in the past, patients like Goodman are now getting another choice. Garas said the Impella heart pump can be used on people whose heart is failing but are too weak for a major surgery. It can also be used for other patients who may not want to go through an open-heart surgery if they don’t have to.

“A number of patients have been able to have a happy and healthy life with no chest pain, no angina, and those patients wouldn’t have has much other options,” Garas said.

He said after 500 surgeries, the data is showing it is safer, minimally invasive and decreases the likelihood of needing another procedure because it allows the surgeons more time to repair blood vessels and restore heart function.

The device is available at most hospitals, but Garas said he wants to see more doctors use it as an interventional device instead of a last resort in emergency cases.

“We know from multiple studies that when we use the assist device with these procedures, doctors are able to do more stents,” Garas said. “They’re able to revascularize more completely. They’re able to get the patient out of the hospital and it ends up being cost effective.”

He said  the device has been around for 10 years now but is still relatively new to many doctors. 

Garas said there are many scenarios where they can use this device, including heart failure or when doctors need to open arteries. Talk to your doctor about your options.

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