A couple of weeks ago, a woman in her 80s was taken to The Medical Center of Central Georgias emergency room after suffering a heart attack.
Given her age and a variety of physical ailments, including low blood pressure and failing kidneys, doctors said the patient was unlikely to survive open heart surgery.
Instead, her physicians -- Dr. Ahmed Ijaz Shah, a cardiologist who serves as an assistant professor at the Mercer University School of Medicine, and Dr. Fady S. Wanna, a surgeon with Cardio-Thoracic and Vascular Surgery Associates -- elected to go with an outside-the-box -- and outside-the-chest -- approach by installing a ventricular-assist device called TandemHeart that allowed the doctors to save the patients life.
Its the first time such a device has been used in Middle Georgia, the doctors said.
The woman was suffering from a failing right ventricle, which was preventing blood from going to her lungs and causing other parts of her body to shut down.
But Shah and Wanna were able to install two cannulas -- long tubes about 7.5 mm thick and 25 inches long -- into veins in her groin and neck, which substituted for the ventricular function and kept the patient alive.
The doctors didnt even have to take the patient into an operating room. Instead, they performed the procedure in one of the cath labs at the hospitals Luce Heart Institute.
Her heart was failing. It was not pumping blood, Wanna said. We were able to use the device to suck the blood out and push it to where it was needed.
The TandemHeart device has been around for a few years, Wanna said, but hadnt been used in Middle Georgia before. He said most cardiologists tend to shy away from the pump device.
Shah, however, has a keen interest in the device and is opening a heart-failure clinic beginning May 1 as part of Mercer Medicine. The TandemHeart device would be a significant part of that treatment, Shah said.
Its been tried elsewhere, (and for the patient) it was the best option, Shah said. There was nothing else we could do. ... Its something we want to use more often. We want to offer it more and more in similar situations.
The device is only a short-term fix for a patient, the doctors said.
Patients usually can only stay on the device for five to 10 days on average, and must stay in the hospital during that time under round-the-clock care.
However, in the case of a right ventricular issue, thats usually enough time for the patients heart to heal on its own, while not exposing a patient to the risks inherent with open-heart surgery.
Wanna said the device buys a physician time to allow the heart to recover on its own.
Not only that, but it also allows patients to stay in Middle Georgia. In the past, patients would have had to been sent to a facility such as Emory University Hospital in Atlanta to recover.
Shah said Thursday that the female patient in Macon left the intensive care unit recently.
Doctors are optimistic about her chances for recovery, noting that some of her ailments cleared up after they used the device on her.
Both doctors noted that using the TandemHeart device isnt cheap -- it costs about $25,000 -- and requires a tremendous team effort from the entire staff.
We worked as a team, Shah said. The teamwork was very good. ... You have to have a team approach with it, not just with the doctors, but the nurses as well, because there has to be a nurse stationed in the room 24 hours a day. We have a dedicated staff. Its a very expensive device, so everyone has to buy into it.
Wanna said the extra time and expense is worthwhile, because it gives the body a chance to heal itself.
Its always gratifying to see (the patient) turn a corner, he said. This device allows us to borrow time, to allow the body to heal.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.