VADs 101: Lifesaving Heart Devices

The language of medicine is full of complicated words and acronyms. For parents of children with serious heart conditions like congenital heart disease or pulmonary hypertension, one such acronymn that may incite fear or worry is hearing that their child may need a device called a VAD (Ventricular Assist Device). However, these devices, combined with Seattle Children’s Heart Center’s medical expertise, save the lives of many children and teens each year.

What is a VAD?

A ventricular assist device (VAD) is a mechanical pump a surgeon implants inside or outside a child’s chest and connects to the heart during open-heart surgery. A VAD can be used for patients waiting for a heart transplant or for patients whose heart muscle needs to rest. Seattle Children’s has a variety of VAD options for patients large and small, from tiny babies to young adults, which aren’t available at every hospital. VAD options at Seattle Children’s include the Berlin Heart, CentriMag and PediMag centrifugal pumps, HeartMate II, Heartware HVAD and SynCardia Total Artificial Heart (TAH).

The newer, fully implantable VADs like the HeartMate II, Heartware HVAD or TAH can also greatly enhance the quality of life for many patients who are awaiting a heart transplant, often allowing them to leave the hospital. For one such patient from Hawaii named Julie Kobayashi, her implantable VAD even allowed her to leave the hospital while she waited for a heart and achieve her dream of playing in the snow for the first time.

To learn about each type of VAD, watch the video above as cardiac surgeons Dr. Jonathan Chen and Dr. Michael McMullan explain the many types that Seattle Children’s offers, and why it’s important to choose the device that best matches a child’s needs.

What’s special about VADs at Seattle Children’s?

Seattle Children’s Heart Center is the only pediatric heart center in the Pacific Northwest equipped with the breadth of expertise and technology to offer the most advanced medical and surgical options for heart failure, including VADs and heart transplantation. Our VAD program is part of a comprehensive approach to caring for children and adolescents with complex congenital heart disease. The hospital treats some of the region’s most complex, advanced heart disease and heart transplant cases and has one of the highest 3-year patient survival rates in the country.

Lifesaving devices get patients back to normal life

Those who best understand the lifesaving benefits of these devices are the patients and families who have experienced them firsthand. In the video below, watch the story of AJ Hwangbo, who was diagnosed with acute viral myocarditis at the age of 6. To save AJ’s life, McMullan inserted a VAD, a CentriMag pump, in his chest. The device pumped blood for his heart, allowing it to rest and recover. Today, AJ is fully recovered and he is a happy, healthy 7-year-old.