Space-age heart pump saves life

A portable Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) with motors designed by NASA has been used to save the life of a 27-year-old Scottish woman.

Heather McIntyre, whose heart stopped beating twice in theatre, was saved by a heart pump at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Saleem Haj-Yahia implanted the VAD, whose tiny motors were designed by NASA scientists.

Even with the VAD, doctors estimated that McIntyre – admitted to hospital with multiple organ failure – had only a 5% chance of surviving. However, over several months her heart and other organs began to recover, though her left leg had to be amputated.

McIntyre is now recovering at home. “I don’t remember much of what happened at the time, but there is no doubt that the VAD saved my life as it allowed my own heart to rest and to fully recover,” she said.

The Scottish government has launched a new strategy for dealing with heart failure patients by improving access to VAD therapy and heart transplants via referrals to the Clydebank centre.

The Golden Jubilee is one of only a few UK hospitals to use VADs. They are usually used as a temporary circulation pump while the patient waits for a heart transplant, but can sometimes enable a failing heart to recover.

It is hoped that in future, VAD therapy may provide an alternative to transplant for critically ill patients.

Dr Mark Petrie, cardiologist at the Golden Jubilee, commented: “In the past we were limited to drugs and pacemakers, but now we can actually take over the function of the heart and drive blood around the body, so it’s a huge benefit for patients who are acutely sick.”