The Impella pump: A small device with a big impact for heart patients
This story was originally published in the Summer 2021 edition of Providence Health Matters.
[3 MIN READ]
In this article:
- Providence emphasizes excellent patient care and safety through diagnosis and treatment as well as a commitment to research, education, and prevention.
- Lifesaving technology such as the Impella pump, a small device designed to boost the heart’s activity, is available for patients in critical situations.
- Heart conditions increase the risk of complications from COVID-19. Learn ways to protect yourself.
Six years ago, Tim Kingsbury, then 43 and living in Aliso Viejo, went home from his job as a software technology engineer in the middle of the workday because he wasn’t feeling well. “When I started climbing up the stairs at work, I felt like I had run a marathon,” says Kingsbury. “I was exhausted, and I started sweating. My wife happened to be home, and when I walked in, she said I looked white as a ghost. I wanted to take a nap, but she said no, that I needed to go to the ER.”
His wife, Barbara, a pharmaceutical representative, recalls that “he was pale and clammy, and his pulse was really fast. I thought he might be having a heart attack.” She brought him to nearby Providence Mission Hospital because she and other family members had gone there in the past and appreciated the care they had received.
The decision was fortuitous. Our cardiovascular care at Providence Mission includes a comprehensive range of services from minimally invasive heart procedures to a full cardiac surgery program. Our emphasis is on excellent patient care and safety through diagnosis and treatment as well as a commitment to research, education and prevention.
After arriving at the emergency room, Kingsbury was diagnosed as being in cardiogenic shock, a life-threatening condition in which the heart is suddenly unable to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
Arthur H. Loussararian, MD, the cardiologist on call that day, recalls Kingsbury’s case. “In the ER, his blood pressure was very low, so we started running a variety of tests,” he says. “A chest X-ray showed cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart, probably caused by a viral infection a month or so before. We also did an ultrasound of his heart, which showed that it was only working at 15% of normal capacity, which is life-threatening. We had to fix it.”
The Impella pump helps critical heart patients
The solution was a small device, then relatively new, called an Impella pump, designed to boost the heart’s activity. During a 15-minute procedure, while Kingsbury was awake but sedated, Dr. Loussararian inserted a tube into the artery of one leg and guided a pump to the heart.
“The pump pulls blood from the heart’s left ventricle, the pumping chamber, and expels it into the aorta, the largest artery in the body—doing the work of the heart,” says Dr. Loussararian, who as an interventional cardiologist is trained in procedures that treat structural heart problems. “The pump can perform about three-fourths of normal heart-flow action, supporting blood pressure and lowering the heart’s need for oxygen, which lets the heart rest and mend. It buys time.”
At one point Dr. Loussararian thought Tim might need a heart transplant. Fortunately, Tim’s heart function improved, and soon after, the Impella device was removed.
Looking back, Kingsbury says the medical staff at Providence Mission Hospital “did everything and more to save my life. I’m very grateful to Dr. Loussararian, who knew just what to do.” Adds Barbara Kingsbury: “The Providence Mission Hospital ER and ICU saw that his condition was serious, and it was all hands on deck to help him stay alive. He had constant, high-level care.”
The couple now live near Barbara’s family in Ventura. “Except for pandemic restrictions, I’m back to doing almost all my normal activities—work, running, workouts, golf, photography and the beach,” says Kingsbury. “But I’m more cautious than before. I watch my salt intake, stopped eating meat and work out every day.”
Dr. Loussararian, who is active in leading clinical cardiac research at our hospital and in the community, says many of his patients have now benefited from the Impella pump. He calls the device “a game changer,” and one example of the cutting-edge cardiac care that you can expect to receive at Providence Mission.
“Our hospital is very proactive in getting new technology,” he says, “and we have a really solid and seasoned cardiovascular team, from the interventional cardiologists to the cardiac-catheter-lab caregivers to the nurses in the critical care unit. I’m proud to be part of the Providence Mission family.”
COVID-19 and heart conditions
It’s important to note that having a heart condition doesn’t make you more likely to get COVID-19. But having a pre-existing heart condition like high blood pressure, AFib, heart failure or pulmonary disease creates higher risk of more severe infection if you do get COVID-19. That’s because these heart conditions lower the natural reserves your body needs to fight the infection.
There are a few things you can do to take care of your heart and help prevent a heart emergency during this pandemic.
- Keep taking your heart disease medicines (including your high blood pressure and high cholesterol drugs) based on your doctor’s orders.
- Make sure you have at least a 30-day supply of those medicines.
- Call your doctor right away if you have new concerns about your health, especially if you feel sick.
Most important of all, the American Heart Association says, “Don’t die of doubt.” If you experience the first sign of a heart attack or stroke, call 911. Hospitals are still the safest place you can go to receive lifesaving treatment. Don’t delay getting emergency care if you need it.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.