Ventricular Assist Devices (VAD)

Each year, Arkansas Children’s Heart Center sees children who are experiencing various degrees of heart failure. It can be an extremely frightening and emotional time.

What is heart failure?

The term “heart failure” describes a heart that is not functioning properly. It doesn’t mean the heart has stopped working, but that it’s not working as well as it’s needed to supply the body with blood and oxygen.

There are some specialized medications that can help the heart pump stronger, but sometimes this is only a short time treatment. When a child’s heart function becomes severely diminished, the heart team at Arkansas Children’s may determine the best option is a heart transplant. Though Arkansas Children’s has one of the shortest wait times for donor hearts, time is of the essence. To prevent further heart and organ failure, the doctors may determine the child needs a specialized heart pump, or ventricular assist device (VAD). VADs are mechanical pumps implanted by a heart surgeon in the operating room during open heart surgery. These devises help assist the heart in pumping blood and can prolong the lives of patients while they wait for a heart transplant. VADs can also improve quality of life for patients in heart failure.

Understanding Heart Devices

Impella Technology

Impella Technology consists of a very small pump located on the tip of a catheter. The catheter is inserted into the patient's femoral artery and positioned within the heart. It works by sending blood from the left ventricle to the ascending aorta. Arkansas Children’s is only one of eight pediatric hospitals using Impella Technology. 

Berlin Heart

The Berlin Heart EXCOR® Pediatric VAD is a mechanical cardiac support system for critically ill pediatric patients suffering from severe heart failure. The system is designed to support pediatric patients of all age groups, from newborns to teenagers, and is intended to bridge patients awaiting heart transplantation from days up to several months, until a donor heart becomes available.  Other VAD devices available are the DeBakey VAD, Heartware HVAD, Centrimag and Syncardia. 

About our Heart Experts

Arkansas Children’s is a leading expert in coagulation therapy for patients with a VAD, vital to the success of a patient’s outcome. In 2007, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) granted conditional approval to Berlin Heart for a study to evaluate the safety and probable benefit of using the EXCOR® Pediatric VAD to support pediatric patients. Initially, only 10 centers were chosen from the U.S. and Canada to participate. In 2011, the FDA granted approval of the Berlin Heart for all centers in North America. As of 2015, Arkansas Children’s has implanted 51 Berlin Heart VADs, the most of any institution in the country.