Heart failure is often associated with advancing age. But anyone can develop heart failure.
In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor sits down with Darla Calvet, 54, and Scripps heart failure specialist J. Thomas Heywood, MD, to discuss how Calvet overcame congestive heart failure with a mechanical assist from a life-saving device.
Calvet was only 39 when she began experiencing the symptoms of heart failure – extreme fatigue, persistent cough, swollen ankles. Over the years – despite extensive treatment – her condition grew worse and it became clear she would need a heart transplant.
A device known as a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) kept her heart functioning while she waited more than a year for a suitable heart to become available. “For me it was literally a life saver,” said Calvet.
Calvet had her LVAD implanted on Jan. 24, 2014. Dr. Heywood, who serves as the medical director of the Advanced Heart Failure and Mechanical Circulatory Support Program at Scripps, said the device that kept Calvet’s heart pumping while she waited for her new heart is a testament that “heart failure is a treatable disease.”
More than 6 million Americans live with heart failure. It is one of the most common reasons people age 65 and older go into the hospital. “Typically older people get it, but young people can, too,” Dr. Heywood said.
Heart failure is also referred to as congestive heart failure – which is what Calvet had – when fluid builds up in various parts of the body.
“Congestive heart failure means there's something wrong with the heart, so it doesn't pump like it should or it fills abnormally,” Dr. Heywood said. “Pressure in the heart elevates and that's when you get swelling and shortness of breath.”
Heart failure can be caused by many different heart problems.
“It can be congenital or it can be genetic,” Dr. Heywood said. “There is heart failure that runs in family. It can be from high blood pressure. It can be from a heart attack, too much alcohol or other drugs. You can get a common virus and it can cause heart failure,” he said.
LVAD is a battery-operated, mechanical pump-type device that is surgically implanted in the chest and helps maintain the pumping ability of a heart that can’t effectively work on its own. It is not an artificial heart; instead, it assists the heart in doing its job. In Calvet’s case, the LVAD would be a stepping stone while she waited for the permanent solution: a heart transplant.
“We wanted her to go directly to a heart transplant, but she became so sick that she almost died,” Dr. Heywood said.
Calvet received her LVAD on Jan. 24, 2014, which provided a bridge for her to recover. She then was able to undergo a successful heart transplant in 2015.
Today, Calvet is enjoying her new lease on life. An avid swimmer, she competes in the Transplant Games of America and also spends her time volunteering for the Scripps LVAD Ambassador Program.
“I’m just really grateful,” she said.