When the heart is no longer able to support the circulation of blood properly, both a patient’s quality of life and life expectancy diminishes. Heart failure patients can experience shortness of breath and fatigue, which can make everyday activities difficult.
The University of Toledo Medical Center will hold a free symposium to discuss the symptoms of heart failure, share the latest treatment options available, and identify community resources available for patients.
“We wanted to reach out to our community to help heart failure patients better understand their condition and the resources available to them,” said Connie Mueller, lead LVAD coordinator for UTMC and event co-organizer.
According to the American Heart Association, nearly six million Americans are living with heart failure, with more than half of them between the ages of 35 and 74. One in five people will develop the disease in their lifetime.
“People shouldn’t think of heart failure as a disease of the elderly. Young people also need to be aware of the symptoms of heart failure,” said Dr. George Moukarbel, medical director of the heart failure and LVAD programs at UTMC. “Potential warning signs are shortness of breath, increased heart rate, unusual fatigue and swelling in the extremities. The symptoms can be mild at first, and often younger patients ignore or dismiss these early symptoms.”
A number of conditions can lead to the development of heart failure, including diabetes, obesity, sleep apnea and high blood pressure. Moukarbel said it is important for patients to discuss their risk of developing heart failure with their physician.
“Heart failure is a life-threatening condition with no cure, but there are treatment options available to manage symptoms and prevent further heart damage,” he said. “Medications and simple lifestyle changes can help slow the progression of the disease.”
Patients with advanced or end-stage heart failure have several treatment options, including a surgically implanted pump called a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD. It is attached to the heart to help it pump more blood with less work.
“We have met with patients who were told their only remaining option was hospice care, but were able to receive an LVAD implant and are doing well today,” said Margaret Commet, operations supervisor of UTMC’s cardiovascular unit and event co-organizer. “It is important that heart failure patients understand that advanced treatments can give them more time and improve their quality of life.”
With his heart functioning at only 10 percent, Byron Clark was given only six months to live in early 2015.
“I decided to get the LVAD implant at that time because I didn’t think six months was long enough to wait on the transplant list,” said Clark, who had the LVAD implanted at UTMC. “It did take some adjustments to learn to live with the implant, but it gave me time until a donor was found 16 months later.”
“For patients like Byron, the LVAD is a bridge to transplantation,” said Dr. Mark Bonnell, UTMC cardiothoracic surgeon and director of the LVAD program. “Others who are not eligible for a transplant can still see a substantial improvement in quality of life from LVAD as a permanent solution. The LVAD has added not only years but quality to their lives, which is indeed the central purpose of this technology.”
More than 18,000 patients worldwide and 39 patients at UTMC have received implantation of the LVAD device.
“I definitely recommend having the LVAD implant and the doctors at UTMC,” Clark said. “It gave me extra time, and I feel great today. My new heart is functioning well, and I look forward to working in the yard and traveling.”
Clark and his wife have established the Having a Heart for a Heart Foundation to educate and guide families through the LVAD to transplant process and provide financial support for patients.
“We were blessed to have good insurance, but we know others who have lost everything trying to manage the financial burden of these surgeries,” said Debbie Clark, foundation president. “We wanted to do something to give back and help others who need to travel this journey.”
Moukarbel and Bonnell will speak at the “Navigating Heart Failure” event, along with patients who will share their experiences in living with heart failure. Vendors and educational booths will be available, including information about cardiac rehab, smoking cessation, respiratory therapy and proper nutrition.
Preregistration is required; call 419.383.5150. Nurses can earn one continuing education credit for attending.