Karen Wright, a heart assist device patient at Piedmont Heart Institute, realized something wasn’t right when she couldn’t walk up the flight of stairs she normally ran.
“I couldn’t do that without panting or being really, really short of breath,” she explains.
Wright’s primary care physician referred her to a cardiologist. During her first cardiology appointment, Wright underwent an echocardiogram. When the physician read the results, he was shocked. Her heart’s ejection fraction was only 15 percent. Normal ejection fraction is 55 to 70 percent. An ejection fraction test determines how well the heart pumps each time it beats.
Despite significant heart weakness, Wright continued working as a nurse practitioner for several years while taking medication and seeing her cardiologist regularly.
In November 2012 her health took a turn for the worse.
“I couldn’t work,” she explains. “I couldn’t walk from the kitchen to the garage.”
She went to the hospital for extreme shortness of breath and during that visit, decided to take the next step and get a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to keep her heart pumping until she could receive a transplant.
When she returned home after the LVAD procedure, she felt depressed.
“I thought the LVAD would impede my activities – I didn’t realize at the time it would actually make me feel better,” says Wright.
“I had to get used to all these rituals – making sure the batteries were charged, timing myself and checking my blood pressure,” she says. “Now it’s routine and I feel so much better.”
Wright recommends the LVAD to patients with heart failure.
Wright’s LVAD is a bridge to a heart transplant one day. With an O positive blood type, she knows finding a compatible donor heart will be difficult.
“Hopefully and finally when I do get a heart, I’ll be more complete than I am now,” she says. “I’m just waiting patiently, whenever it comes up.”
To learn more about LVAD and heart transplantation, visit Piedmont Heart Institute.
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