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Mechanical assist for heart failure

Updated: January 01, 2008

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.

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