At the beginning of this year, Johan van Wyk and his family were left devastated after his health deteriorated so rapidly, placing him at risk. Mr van Wyk was diagnosed with heart failure at the age of 29.
According to Netcare, the qualified electrician is now regaining his strength as he is the first person in South Africa to have the latest state-of-the-art mechanical heart device implanted in his chest.
“You never know what an asset your health is until you are put in a situation like this,” says Johan, now 38. “It came as a real shock to discover that I had a serious heart problem at such a young age.”
His heart had reached its end-stage and Johan couldn’t wait any longer. With no donor heart available, the new technology was the final option to save the young father and husband, reports George Herald.
Dr Koen assisted by cardiac surgeon Dr Loven Moodley performed the procedure to insert a tiny device called an Abbot HeartMate 3 LVAD left ventricular assist device next to Mr van Wyk’s heart on June 18.
“The device replaces the function of the failing heart muscle, pumping the blood around the body to provide vital circulation. Previously, VADs have mainly served as a temporary option to keep a patient alive until a heart transplant could be performed. Technological advances in VADs have increased the longevity of these devices, increasingly supporting their use as a potential long-term solution for heart failure,” says Dr Koen, who has been performing VAD implant surgery for 20 years.
“Finding matching donor hearts has been even more challenging during COVID-19, and with heart transplants, there is the additional concern that patients need to be on immunosuppressants and are therefore more vulnerable to developing severe COVID-19 complications. Immunosuppression is not required, however, for implantation of a mechanical heart pump such as this.”
The LVAD component that pumps blood in the patient’s chest, is connected by what is called a drive-line, which runs through the abdomen, to a controller and battery pack outside of the body.
The HeartMate 3 LVAD device has several charging options and backup batteries that provide power. Even in the event of a power cut, the patient will have plenty of battery life to keep the device going. The device also records clinical data that the specialist would need to monitor the patient’s condition remotely.
“The thing I have missed the most is spending time in nature. I used to really enjoy hiking and it was nothing for me to go for a 10km or 15km walk before my heart problem.
“In the months before I had this operation, I would become exhausted walking just a few steps. It has been only two months since I had the mechanical heart pump implanted and, already, I can walk one or two kilometres. I am building up slowly as part of my therapy.”
“The device is electrical and I can’t get it wet, so I can’t bath or swim, but this is a small compromise that is giving me the chance to have a new life. I have more energy, and I’m starting to notice I can do things again that my body just couldn’t manage previously,” Van Wyk said.
Meanwhile, Dr Koen explained how cardiac assistance is becoming more and more advanced all the time.
“This field of electromechanical cardiac assistance is advancing all the time. Moving to this latest technology as a long-term option makes it possible for patients with heart failure to regain their mobility and independence, to return to work and participate in family activities once more – potentially for decades or long enough for a patient who has a young child to see their grandchildren take their first steps,” Koen explained.
The industry is working toward future developments so that the device may become entirely implantable, with all necessary components and batteries that can be charged wirelessly.