April 10, 2017 5:42 pm

‘TandemHeart’ helps make high-risk heart patients strong enough for surgery

WATCH: A first-in-Canada procedure is giving high-risk cardiac patients a second chance. Heather Yourex-West explains how the ‘TandemHeart’ device makes weak hearts strong enough to withstand surgery.

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For the first time in Canada, a device called a TandemHeart has been used to give a very high-risk cardiac patient a second chance.

Robert Barton, 55, was scheduled to receive a kidney transplant when doctors discovered serious problems with his heart.

“They found that my heart was not in good shape,” Barton said. “I had some blockages in the arteries.”

Barton’s heart was incredibly weak: too weak to survive a kidney transplant and too weak to withstand the open-heart bypass surgery he needed.

Fortunately, a multi-disciplinary team at Toronto’s Peter Munk Cardiac Centre felt Barton was a good candidate for the TandemHeart device.

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The TandemHeart device is inserted up through a patient's leg.

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“The TandemHeart device is a very powerful motor that helps support the heart through very complex procedures,” said Dr. Chris Overgaard, an interventional cardiologist at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre.

When a patient’s heart is very weak, their blood pressure can dip dangerously low during heart procedures or surgery. As a result, such patients face a higher risk of cardiac arrest and even death.

The TandemHeart is inserted through a catheter that travels up through a patient’s leg. Once inserted in the heart, the device allows blood to pump around for the organ’s left chamber – effectively bypassing the heart’s weaker side.

“What we noticed when we were using it for the first time was that the blood flow to all the organs was dramatic. The patient didn’t even notice that the device was in, though at times their heart virtually stopped while we were working on it,” Overgaard said.

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For Barton, the device helped support his weakened heart through a complex angioplasty, during which he received a total of five stents.

“Overnight, I got my husband back,” said Barton’s wife, Louise.

“I can now walk for 25 to 30 minutes at a time,” Barton said.

“To express how thankful I am…I can’t. It’s just overwhelming.”

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