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Tiny, Easy to Insert Heart Pump Aids Critically Ill Patients

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Cardiologists from the Heart Center at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center have added the world’s smallest heart pump to their arsenal to help critically ill heart patients who are in advanced cardiac failure or shock. The device works by temporarily taking over the pumping function of the heart and providing time needed to initiate lifesaving interventions.

The Impella 2.5, which is made by Abiomed Inc., recently received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration and is the smallest heart pump on the market. It moves the blood through the heart and to the other organs five times faster than current industry devices.

“It will unload the work of the heart, providing time and options when you are in the middle of high-risk events,” said Vinay Thohan, M.D., director of the Congestive Heart Failure and Heart Transplant Program. “This new device can be inserted through a catheter similar to a routine heart catheterization. It allows the heart to rest and, in some cases, recover.”

Other similar types of cardiac support devices require cardiothoracic surgical placement through the chest, far more of a strain on the patient at a time of crisis. Because the device is catheter based, it is easier to insert.

“It is another example of forward-thinking technology and research brought to the bedside,” Thohan said. “Wake Forest Baptist continues to be on the forefront of techniques and cutting-edge therapies that provide options for patient care."

The small device can be inserted in the catheterization laboratory through a standard guide wire. It goes through the femoral artery and into the left ventricle of the heart. The device pumps up to 2.5 liters of blood per minute from the left ventricle into the ascending aorta.
When the heart is not working properly and the blood is not flowing, the heart cannot pump enough oxygen and nutrients to meet the body’s needs. This puts a strain on the organs and can lead to congestive heart failure and shock.

Heart failure affects about 5 million Americans. Each year, about 550,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65.

The Heart Center of Wake Forest Baptist is a national leader in providing cardiac care and surgery. Wake Forest Baptist cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, nurse specialists and researchers work as a team to address the full scope of heart problems. Working in state-of-the-art facilities, using some of the world’s most sophisticated technology, these experts are on the leading edge of diagnosis, treatment and discovery.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical has been performing cardiac surgery since the 1940s and helped pioneer open-heart surgery in North Carolina. Through the years, Medical Center cardiologists and heart surgeons have made major contributions in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.


Media Contacts: Ann Hopkins,, at (336) 716-1280; Bonnie Davis,; or Shannon Koontz,, at (336) 716-4587.

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Last Updated: 07-10-2009
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