Patient Care

Artificial Heart Device Gives Philosophy Professor Valuable Time

Aug. 5, 2011

St. Bonaventure University philosophy professor Roderick Hughes III, Ph.D., can’t wait to get back into the classroom after an almost perfect 41-year attendance record. The long-time educator missed a number of weeks of classes earlier this year due to life-threatening heart failure.

The 66-year-old is benefitting from a high-tech heart pump implanted by doctors at the University of Rochester Medical Center. The pump will keep his heart going while he waits for a heart transplant.

“I cannot say enough good things about the professionalism of the staff and the compassion extended to me. They are the main reason that I am improving every day,” said Hughes, following his April 12 procedure.

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. The Medical Center is among the nation’s leaders in the use of LVADs for people with heart failure.

Hughes suffered a heart attack in 2001, which was quite a surprise because his blood pressure and cholesterol levels, common indicators of poor heart health, were normal. “I bounced back quickly and led a completely normal life.”

However, over the past few years, he endured a steady decline in heart health. His Olean cardiologist, Henry Storch, M.D., recommended he see specialists at URMC’s Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation.

“Everything was tiring me out and I just didn’t have the energy,” said Hughes. This scenario isn’t unusual. 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.

Cardiologists placed Hughes on the waiting list for a new heart and he was hospitalized for more than eight weeks. Hughes’ condition worsened and doctors 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.

Doctors also found sarcoidosis, a collection of inflammatory cells in his heart that can cause an irregular heartbeat after the LVAD was implanted.

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 are involved in several research projects studying the use of VADs for people with a variety of heart conditions.

“The HeartMate II used as a long-term therapy gives us another way to improve the quality of life for heart failure patients, and to provide them with extra time they may not have had otherwise,” said Leway Chen, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation.

Hughes’ heart attack 10 years ago was unexpected. On that day, he’d eaten lunch and began suffering from very mild indigestion. As he drove to a drug store to get some antacids, the pain worsened and he sought medical attention, which confirmed the heart attack.

Hughes and his wife, Deborah, have six grown children, including Roderick Hughes IV, who lives in Pittsford, near the Medical Center’s Strong Memorial Hospital.