Facebook Twitter Instagram You Tube Pinterest LinkedIn RSS Podcasts Video Library Blog
 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Ventricular Assist Device

A ventricular assist device (VAD) is a mechanical device (“heart pump”) that circulates blood throughout the body when the heart is too weak to pump blood on its own. A small electric motor inside the VAD drives the pump. A left ventricular assist device (LVAD or LVAS) pulls blood from the left ventricle and delivers the blood to the aorta and then out to the rest of the body.


Know Your Heart Disease & Stroke Risk

Take our health risk assessment and view your score today!

Experts in VAD Technology and Surgery

Northwestern Memorial supports patients with the most current VAD research and technology. We are fully approved by Medicare the Joint Commission on VADs to perform bridge therapy (to safely support a patient to a heart transplant) or destination therapy (for patients ineligible for heart transplant). 

Northwestern Memorial’s Center for Heart Failure at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is led by Allen S. Anderson, MD, and Edwin C. McGee, MD. Dr. Anderson is a cardiologist, medical director of the Center for Heart Failure and the medical director of Heart Transplantation and Mechanical Assistance. He is responsible for pre- and post-operative patient management both in the hospital and at home. Dr. McGee is a cardiothoracic surgeon, surgical director of the Center for Heart Failure and the surgical director of Heart Transplantation and Mechanical Assistance. Dr. McGee has extensive experience in both ventricular assist devices and heart transplantation, and also is responsible for post-operative patient management. 


VAD implantation at Northwestern Memorial is performed by highly skilled cardiac surgeons with extensive experience in this specialty. Surgeons work as a team with cardiologists, nurses and other staff who coordinate in-hospital care and outpatient management. We have a dedicated VAD clinic that coordinates outpatient VAD management.

Three Parts of a VAD

A small electronic computer controller regulates the three parts of the VAD that make the pump work.
  • A small round pump, weighing about one pound, is attached to your heart. It boosts the flow of blood to your body. Blood is pulled out of your failing left ventricle and pumped into the ascending aorta—the large blood vessel exiting the heart.
  • A small electronic computer controller regulates how the pump works.
  • Batteries, carried outside your body, are connected to the pump with a cable (or “driveline”) that enters your body through the skin. The battery system is either worn under or on top of your clothing.
VADs are designed to restore blood flow throughout the body, enabling patients to breathe more easily and feel less fatigued. With a VAD, your organs will receive more blood than they did before surgery, which will likely improve their function.
After receiving a VAD, patients generally feel more energetic and can resume normal activities. Many patients are able to return to work and resume hobbies they haven’t been able to do for years.

Will a VAD Improve Your Heart Function?

VADs can help many people with advanced-stage heart failure—people who are failing conventional therapy and have been told they don't have many options.
  • VADs are commonly used to safely support a patient while the wait for a heart transplant (also called “bridge therapy”).
  • We sometimes use VADs to support patients with end-stage (Stage D) heart failure and who are ineligible for heart transplant (also called “destination therapy”).
  • Occasionally, young people who receive VADs can achieve full heart function recovery. Sometimes those patients can later have their VADs removed.

The VAD Implantation Procedure

Implantation of a VAD is major heart surgery, and requires a strong commitment on both the patient and the care team. Some patients find the concept scary or intimidating, but through the Center for Heart Failure team, you will have full support through every step of the VAD implantation process and post-surgical care..
Before surgery, we will perform extensive evaluations so we may tailor your surgical experience according to your specific risk factors and needs.
A cardiac surgeon will implant your VAD during a four- to six-your surgical procedure, during which you will receive general anesthesia. As with any surgical procedure, there are risks; your doctor will talk with you about your specific risks and steps taken to minimize them.
After the VAD is implanted, most patients spend as many as five days in the intensive care unit. You may stay in the hospital anywhere from two to eight weeks after the pump is implanted. During this time you and your family will learn how to care for your VAD.

How Long Will My VAD Last?

The amount of time a VAD will provide support to your heart varies, depending on a few factors:
  • The type of VAD system you receive
  • The purpose of implanting the VAD
  • Your specific medical condition
Often, patients can experience support from the current generation of VADs for up to 10 years.

Returning Home and Caring For Your VAD

After surgery, our team will help you learn to care for your VAD. We offer a detailed education program for you and your caregivers to ensure safety and proper use of the device. You’ll learn how to manage the device and troubleshoot potential emergency situations.
The length of recovery time is highly variable, but it generally takes a few weeks to recuperate from the implantation procedure. To some extent, recovery will depend on your physical condition before surgery.
You will return to our clinic for regular check-ups to monitor VAD function and your overall health. The vast majority of VAD recipients feel better after surgery—especially those who commit to a lifelong self-care program that improves their diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors.

Types of VAD available at Northwestern Memorial

Ventricular Assist Device - HeartWare The Heartware® is a small implantable VAD, which uses magnetic forces to spin a rotor and create blood flow. This design is expected to provide long-term support. Similar to other implantable continuous flow devices, it has a small electrical lead that exits the skin and attaches to an external controller and AC or DC power. 

The HeartWare provides patients with a high degree of mobility, being implanted above the diaphragm. It is currently in clinical investigations for use in bridge to transplantation and destination therapy. This VAD is the smallest full-support device available and can be configured to support both ventricles (the two pumping chambers of the heart).

HeartMate® II
Ventricular Assist Device - HeartMate The Heartmate® II is a continuous flow small implanted pump, about the size of a “D” battery, used as an LVAD. The Heartmate II® is FDA approved as a bridge to transplantation and destination therapy. It is the smallest FDA approved LVAD and is suitable for women and patients with smaller body size.

Contact us Today

Patients with advanced heart failure that have exhausted the limitations of medical therapies may be candidates to receive a VAD. For more information, please contact the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 1-866-662-8467 or request a first time appointment online

Clinical Trials

For more information regarding clinical trials related to heart failure, please visit the Clinical Trials Unit of Northwestern, send an email or call 312-926-4000. 
Last UpdateNovember 4, 2013