Pennsylvania Man Thankful for Artificial Heart Pump

University of Rochester doctors offer high-tech treatment after severe heart attack

November 21, 2011

Carla Akerelrea, N.P., trains Kyle Bell, and his wife, Shannon, to maintain the HeartMate II ventricular assist device that is keeping his failing heart pumping. The University of Rochester Medical Center is the only place in upstate New York to receive these high-tech devices for heart failure care.

When the Bell family gathers Thursday to give thanks, they will add the doctors and nurses at the University of Rochester Medical Center to the list of blessings received this year. For the first time in six months, patriarch Kyle Bell will be at the table, following life-saving care for his failing heart.

The 49-year-old man had a high-tech heart pump implanted by doctors at URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital. The pump will keep his heart beating while he waits for a heart transplant.

Heart surgeon H. Todd Massey, M.D., implanted a HeartMate II, a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) for long-term use in patients with advanced-stage heart failure, in his chest.  URMC is among the nation’s leaders in the use of LVADs for people with heart failure.

Jeffrey Alexis, M.D.

“It feels so good to be up and around. I’m bouncing back pretty well,” said Bell, who lives in Westfield, Pa., a short drive from Corning. “I’m going to have to rebuild my strength and get back to my normal life.”

Normalcy ended on May 14 when he was awakened from a deep sleep by searing back pain. Nauseous, achy and “dripping with sweat,” Bell’s wife, Shannon, rushed him to nearby Soldiers & Sailors Hospital where doctors diagnosed a heart attack. Atherosclerosis had caused the closure of two arteries in his heart and he was airlifted to Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., where doctors implanted two stents to reopen them.

While many wouldn’t consider someone in their 40s to be at risk of a heart attack, but URMC cardiologist Jeffrey Alexis, M.D., said young people with heart disease may not notice the symptoms until they are severe.

However, heart disease runs in Bell’s family as his parents and brother have all suffered from heart attacks or required bypass surgeries. 

The stents opened the passages of his heart, but the severity of the heart attack left him with congestive heart failure. He endured fluid buildup in his lungs and doctors implanted a defibrillator to support his heart.

“I still didn’t have any energy or appetite,” said Bell, who with his wife, has two children, Brittany and Jacob.

Bell’s cardiologist Daniel Sporn, M.D., at Robert Packer Hospital, suggested he get specialized care from Alexis at the URMC Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation.  Alexis added Bell to the waiting list for a new heart.

With heart disease ranked as the No. 1 killer in the United States, 50,000 to 100,000 Americans find themselves in need of advanced treatment for heart failure every year.

He endured a steady decline in heart health and Alexis recommended placement of the LVAD, a battery-operated pump that is connected to the left ventricle of the heart and pumps oxygenated blood from the lungs throughout the body.

URMC was a leader in the national clinical trial for the HeartMate II that led to its FDA approval in January 2010. URMC’s Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation is the only provider of the device in upstate New York. Doctors and scientists are involved in several research projects studying the use of VADs for people with a variety of heart conditions.

“The HeartMate II can help improve the quality of life for heart failure patients, and to provide them with extra time they may not have had otherwise,” said Alexis, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology.      

During Bell’s hospitalization, he discovered many reminders of home. An employee of Electri-Cord Manufacturing, which produces power supply cords for many machines, including medical equipment, he recognized parts made in his hometown. 

“I’d find myself taking walks and checking out all the cords. It’s neat to see them here, and I know they’re good,” Bell said.

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Leslie White
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