- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 11, 2004

BALTIMORE — The clicking of the pump helping Victor Batts’ heart quickened as he tried to describe what it was like to walk comfortably again.

“The last couple of weeks have been astronomical,” said Mr. Batts, his voice choked with emotion. “I’ve been able to walk distances I haven’t walked in three years. I never thought I would be able to do the things I’ve done in the past few days.”

Mr. Batts, 51, is the first patient to receive a type of heart pump under evaluation for those not eligible for a transplant. He was discharged Thursday from the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where he had the Novacor pump installed in July.

First approved for those awaiting a transplant, the pump is now being studied to evaluate whether it can be used as a permanent or “destination” therapy.

The pump, made by World Heart Corp., is being compared to the HeartMate pump approved two years ago by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a permanent treatment for thousands too ill to be considered for a transplant.

World Heart, based in Ottawa, Ontario, is sponsoring the study.

Mr. Batts, who has severe heart failure, had kidney and liver damage when he arrived at the medical center in July, so he was ineligible for a transplant. His heart wasn’t responding well to medication, making the pump his last hope.

The pump has saved Mr. Batts, but Dr. Stephen S. Gottlieb, director of heart failure and cardiac transplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said the study also will help determine which type of devices may work best for those who are not as ill.

“If this is going to become a medical treatment for any but those patients who are dying, it’s going to mean we are going to have to improve these devices,” Dr. Gottlieb said.

Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, chief of cardiac surgery, said the Novacor pump has a smooth inside designed to prevent clots from forming. The HeartMate has a rough-textured inside to which blood vessels can stick.

Which type is best has not been determined.

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart’s muscle becomes weakened and gradually loses its ability to supply enough blood, causing shortness of breath and fluid retention, Dr. Gottlieb said.

Heart failure can be caused by high blood pressure, abnormal heart valves and heart muscle disease. The risk is increased by obesity, a high-fat diet and a lack of exercise.

Nearly 5 million people in the United States have heart failure and about 550,000 people are diagnosed with it each year. Most can be treated with medication, but pumps and transplants are used in some cases, Dr. Griffith said.

More than 2,000 heart transplants were performed last year in the United States, while about 3,500 people are now waiting for one.

A total of 390 patients will be recruited for the study. Those selected must have advanced heart failure, be short of breath even while resting and unable to perform normal daily activities.

The pump, which does not replace but rather assists the heart, is implanted in the body and powered by batteries carried in a small bag or backpack, connected through wires that protrude through the skin. Following surgery, the patients will return home and their health and quality of life will be assessed.

Mr. Batts, a Baltimore-area resident and retired Bethlehem Steel worker, said he has already become used to the constant click of the pump and was looking forward to going home and returning to gardening and helping around the house.

His wife, Valerie, said her husband was at “death’s door” when he arrived at the hospital.

“I never thought we would be here talking,” she said.

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