Heart failure patient returns home after rare procedure

Six months after Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute (PSHVI) surgeons implanted a ventricular assist device (VAD) in Tim Ritchie to support his failing heart, the 34-year-old Jonestown man walked out of Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center on June 10 with a recuperated heart and no heart pump.

The six-hour surgery to remove the pump is unique. Of the more than 350 heart pumps PSHVI surgeons have implanted, only one other patient was able to recover full function of her own heart. Heart failure patients must remain on a VAD until a suitable donor heart is available for transplant or indefinitely if they are not transplant candidates. In the latter case, a pump is their destination therapy -- their only hope for survival.

"Only a small percentage of patients suffering the same type of heart failure Tim experienced are able to be removed from VADs after recovering full function of their hearts," explained Walter Pae, Ritchie's surgeon and PSHVI’s director, cardiac surgery. Ritchie's doctors aren't certain what caused his heart to begin failing last fall, but they believe it may have been a virus.

"I look forward to showering, sleeping on my side and swimming with my daughters," commented Ritchie, a father of three, who was limited in his activities by the external driver and battery pack that powered his heart pump.

Last month, PSHVI become one of only a handful of programs nationwide and the only program in central Pennsylvania to earn the Joint Commission's Gold Seal of Approval for implanting VADs as destination therapy for patients with advanced heart failure.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009