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Your Healthy Family: New tech at NCH helps keep heart failure patients home

Posted at 7:39 AM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-21 07:29:19-04

NAPLES, Fla. — Heart failure is a disease in which your heart isn't pumping enough blood to the rest of your body. If left untreated, heart failure is deadly. It's responsible for one in nine deaths in our country.

"If it doesn't get treated, it just gets much worse, and then the prognosis is not very good," Dr. Viviana Navas, the Section Head for Heart Failure with the NCH Heart Institute, said.

Dr. Navas said heart failure is a progressive chronic disease.

"Heart failure is defined as the heart not being able to pump enough blood to the rest of the body, either because the heart muscle is weak or because it's stiff and it can't take any more blood," Dr. Navas.

She said the most common symptom of heart failure is shortness of breath.

"It usually starts with them being able to walk a block before, and now half a block, and 'I'm getting short of breath, I have to stop,'" Dr. Navas said. "Then you start having retention of fluids. So they have lower extremity edema, which is puffy legs."

Dr. Navas said heart failure can be treated and managed with medication.

"We have to figure out also why you are developing heart failure, make sure your coronary arteries are OK, make sure your valves are OK. There are many different things that could be causing the heart failure that we need to investigate," she said. "There are specific types of patients that we have an especially difficult time keeping at home, that have re-admissions to the hospitals. They retain fluid very easily, it's hard to get their medications balanced, where they stay home feeling well."

That's where a device that's new to NCH comes in. It's called CardioMEMS.

"It's really changing the way we manage heart failure, both for patients and for us," Dr. Navas said.

The device is the size of a paperclip. Doctors can monitor heart failure patients right from their homes using a pillow.

“It's a very small device that we implant and leave in one of the pulmonary arteries. And it gives us numbers. The patient goes home doesn't really feel it or know it's there," Dr. Navas said.

She said it's implanted through a right heart catheter.

"We go through the vein in the groin called the femoral vein. Then we go up to all the way to the heart into the pulmonary artery, and we use deploy it there," she said.

Dr. Navas said it takes 30-45 minutes to implant, and the patient goes home the same day. Then, at least once a week, the patient will lay on the pillow provided by their doctor to send in numbers.

"It looks like a normal pillow and it’s very easy for them to do. They get set up before they leave the hospital after their procedure, they take their pillow home with them, and then they just lay there and we receive the numbers," she said. "Before the patient even can tell that anything is changing, like worsening shortness of breath or anything like that, we're able to tell if the patient starts retaining fluid, so we can act upon it and prevent a readmission, or prevent the patient getting any sicker.”

Dr. Navas said within the last month, she and her team implanted the first CardioMEMS device at NCH, in a patient whose heart failure kept sending him back to the hospital.

"It’s a very low risk, simple procedure to do," she said. "And yes, since then, he hasn't been admitted to the hospital."

Dr. Navas said she has a whole heart failure team dedicated to checking the numbers of for CardioMEMS patients. She also said if a patient isn't feeling well, he or she can call their doctor, then lay on the pillow, and staff at the NCH Heart Institute can check the numbers right away.