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Ventricular Assist Device Frequently Asked Questions

We know making decisions about treatment for a serious medical condition can feel overwhelming. We're here to help you every step of the way so that you can understand your options and make decisions that are right for you.

If you or a loved one have end-stage heart disease, your doctor may have talked with you about a ventricular assist device (VAD) or an LVAD (left ventricular assist device).

Here are some commonly asked questions and answers about the device and how it impacts a person's life:

About the Device

What is a ventricular assist device?

A VAD is an implanted device that does the work of pumping blood when your heart no longer can on its own.

An LVAD — left ventricular assist device — pumps blood from the left pumping chamber (ventricle) of your heart to the aorta, the main artery that carries blood from the heart to your body.

An RVAD — right ventricular assist device — pumps blood from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery, which carries blood to the lungs.

If both types are used at the same time, it's called a BIVAD, or biventricular assist device.

How does a ventricular assist device work?

A VAD has internal parts — a pump implanted in your chest and a tube that connects the pump to the main artery (the aorta). A VAD also includes the external system that operates it — a controller and 2 battery packs you wear either under or over clothing.

A thin cable called the driveline runs from the pump through a tiny incision on your belly and attaches to the controller. The controller gives you messages about the system. The rechargeable batteries power the pump.

How long can a person live with a ventricular assist device?

If you have end-stage heart disease, a VAD can help you live longer and feel better. The device was initially designed to keep someone alive while they waited for a heart transplant, called a bridge-to-transplant.

Today, a VAD is also used long-term for people who are not eligible for a transplant, which is known as a destination therapy.

The largest study of patients on a VAD showed that life expectancy with the device has improved as the incidence of infections and blood clots — potential risks with a VAD — have declined. Patients can live up to 10 years with the same device. If any complications or malfunction occurs, we can exchange your device for a new one.

About VAD Video

Having VAD Surgery

Is VAD surgery dangerous?

There are risks with any surgery. Your Temple doctor will talk with you about how we reduce the risk for complications and how we manage those risks if they develop. The most common risks of VAD surgery include:

  • Infection
  • Blood clots and stroke
  • Bleeding
  • Device malfunction

Implanting a ventricular assist device requires open heart surgery that usually takes 6-8 hours. The procedure is done under general anesthesia, so you're asleep the entire time.

How do I learn how to operate a VAD?

You and your caregiver(s) will spend time with your doctor and VAD coordinator before and after your surgery. You'll learn how to operate a VAD and how to live with the device. Your team will explain what you need to know step-by-step to make sure you feel comfortable about operating the device.

You'll practice living with the VAD while you're in the hospital. After you're discharged, help is just a phone call away if you have questions or concerns. You'll have regular follow-up visits to see how you’re doing and track how the device is functioning.

How do I take care of the line coming out of my abdomen?

The driveline connects the VAD pump to the controller and batteries outside your body. The exit site, where the driveline comes out of your body, needs to be covered with a sterile dressing. It's important to keep that area clean and avoid excessive movement of the line to reduce risk of infection.

Your Temple team will teach you and your caregiver how to change the dressing and how to keep it clean.

Will I need to take any medications?

You will continue taking medications for heart failure. Because there is a risk of blood clots developing in the device, you'll also need to take blood thinners.

Living with a VAD

How will the VAD affect my daily routine?

Having a VAD will come with changes to your daily routine you'll need to get used to. But your new "normal" will also come with changes in how you feel — you'll have more energy and be less short of breath.

The ventricular assist device, controller and batteries are always connected to your body, but they won't keep you from a normal daily routine. You’ll have to be aware of the battery charge and your access to an outlet and power source.

You may need to adjust how you lay when you sleep, so you aren't on the controller.

Can I be left alone?

Caregiver support is essential, especially the first 3 months after your surgery. You can be left alone once you have fully recovered, and you and your doctor feel confident about your ability to deal with issues that could possibly develop on your own.

Can I shower with a VAD?

You can shower with a VAD after your incision heals, with accommodations. You’ll use a special shower kit to keep the controller and batteries dry. The equipment cannot be submerged, so you won’t be able to take baths or swim.

Can I drive with a VAD?

While your body heals and recovers after surgery, you should not drive. After you've recovered, you and your doctor will talk about when it's appropriate to drive again.

Can I exercise with a VAD?

Being active is good for your physical health and your mental health, too. Your only restrictions after you fully recover are swimming and contact sports. You'll be able to ease back into the activities you enjoy. Remember, it takes time for your body to recover and to build your stamina back up.

Can I travel with a VAD?

Heart failure likely limited your travel, but a VAD makes travel possible again. Talk with your doctor about travel plans. They can help you find a VAD facility where you're going in case an issue comes up.

If you're flying, it's helpful to carry a letter from your doctor, notifying security and the airline you may have special needs. You cannot go through a metal detector/scanner with your equipment.

Whether you're flying or driving, make sure you have fully charged batteries to power your equipment until you get to your destination.

Is monitoring my blood pressure important?

Well-controlled blood pressure helps your VAD function at its best. That's why your doctor monitors your blood pressure closely and adjusts your medications as needed. Don't be alarmed if you cannot feel your pulse or get a blood pressure reading with a regular blood pressure cuff. It's due to how the VAD pumps the blood.

VAD Dressing Change

Count on Temple's Experience and Expertise

Your team at the Temple Heart & Vascular Institute includes heart failure specialists who are among the Philadelphia area's top doctors. We were the first institution in Philadelphia to implant an LVAD as an alternative to a heart transplant in 2003. We're dedicated to helping you live as full a life as possible.

Learn more about living with a VAD >

Meet our end-stage heart disease team >