A heartening wait

Third generation LVAD device allows Phil McCracken to build his strength at home in preparation for a heart transplant

September 16, 2014

“I’ve finally been picked first for something,” jokes Charles Philip “Phil” McCracken alongside his wife Jean. That something is being the patient implanted with London Health Sciences Centre’s first HeartWare System Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD).

The internally implantable device provides circulatory support to the heart and will enable 60 year-old McCracken, of Chatham Ontario, to gain the strength he requires, in his home, for an eventual heart transplant. “It’s been 12 years since I had a heart attack and I look forward to the day this ordeal is behind me,” adds McCracken. Currently, he struggles with day-to-day tasks such as mowing the lawn, gardening, and his hobby of target archery.

The LVAD sits inside the chest and is connected to the heart. It pumps blood from the left side of the heart into the aorta and through the rest of the body. The LVAD is run by a small external computer, called a controller that is connected by a small cable that passes through the skin on the upper abdomen. The battery powered controller runs the pump and also provides audible alarms to manage the operation of the system.

“In the past few years, we have been able to multiple generations of LVAD technology at LHSC,” says Dr. Dave Nagpal, cardiac surgeon, LHSC. “Just like our phones, the technology is developing rapidly and we see improvements in each iteration. The HeartWare LVAD requires less physical space in the body, meaning the procedure is potentially less invasive and reduces pain.” Additionally, the new generation device improves battery life while being lighter in weight.

“The device increases blood circulation which allows patients to better participate in rehabilitation and enhance their nutritional status,” add Dr. Nagpal. “Ultimately, they are stronger and better transplant candidates.”

McCracken is not currently on the waiting list for a heart transplant because the blood pressure in his lungs is too high to accept a new heart. “Immediately after the surgery in July, my hands and my feet felt warm. The colour returned to my face. I was in the intensive care unit for less than 24 hours and I was walking the next day,” he says. “I hope to be on the transplant list within six to eight months after receiving this implant.”

Despite the potential wait, he and Jean are already looking towards motorcycle rides and the vacation of a lifetime when this chapter of his health journey is behind him.

“My only regret through all of this is that someone will have to die for me to live,” adds McCracken. “A heart is the most beautiful gift imaginable.”

London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) is home to the country’s longest running heart transplant program, with over 600 transplants performed since it was established in 1981.

 Charles with wife Jean and Dr. Nagpal