Harvard Heart Letter

Mechanical assist for heart failure

Left ventricular assist devices offer a new lease on life for some people with severe heart failure.

In the spring of 2000, Peter Houghton's heart had reached the end of the line. Ravaged by a heart attack brought on by a viral infection, it wasn't strong enough to pump as much blood as his body needed. Given six weeks to live, the 61-year-old hospital psychotherapist was saying his goodbyes when doctors offered him the chance to try a new invention "" a thumb-sized pump called a left ventricular assist device. This titanium turbine would take over the work of his failing left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber. It was a venture into the unknown. Houghton wasn't a candidate for a heart transplant, and his doctors couldn't promise he would survive with the device or predict how long it would work.

The gamble paid off. More than seven years later, Houghton is still alive and leading an active life. The Englishman has done a 91-mile walk to raise money for his country's Artificial Heart Fund. He has written two books, travels internationally, and continues to lecture and hike.

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