Once an artificial heart and back - cutting-edge medicine at the Heart Center Siegburg
© Helios

Once an artificial heart and back - cutting-edge medicine at the Heart Center Siegburg

Markus T. has been standing firm in life for 58 years. He never expected that he would require the use of an artificial heart (LVAD). Even less did he think that his heart would be so strong that it would eventually make the use of the LVAD unnecessary.

The avid motorcyclist knew about mild cardiac pre-existing conditions, but never expected that he would suddenly become an acute cardiac emergency. One Wednesday a year ago, the trained banker was making his way to his office on the first floor when he suddenly collapsed lifeless. The diagnosis: acute heart attack. His daughter, who happened to be passing by, saw him lying unconscious on the floor and reacted immediately. She called the emergency doctor and initiated first aid measures together with her mother and sister. Markus T.'s wife and daughters took turns administering cardiac massage until the ambulance service arrived. But they could not transport the patient immediately because his condition was too critical. He had to be shocked countless times using a defibrillator before transport was even possible. He was then immediately taken to the nearby Helios Hospital in Siegburg, where the specialists at the heart center there quickly realized that the immediate use of an artificial heart (LVAD) would be necessary.

While Markus T. was still in a coma, an artificial heart and a stent were inserted. The complex and risky operation in his critical condition was successful and Markus T. awoke from the coma after 16 days. What followed were extensive rehabilitation measures. Regular exercise in moderation and weekly check-ups at the LVAD outpatient clinic in Siegburg were now part of the mandatory program.

Then, over the course of the next few months, an almost unprecedented development emerged, according to Prof. Dr. med. Aron-Frederik Popov, MD, the attending cardiac surgeon. "The patient's cardiac output improved in such a short time that we could practically observe the heart taking over the LVAD's work again." This was also repeatedly demonstrated by an alarm triggered by the LVAD, because Markus T.'s heart was working intensively - against the pump. A good sign, as Popov explains. "The fact that your own heart is working against the pump shows how high his resilience has become again. By using the LVAD, the heart could be relieved and spared during the crucial phase. And thus had the time to regenerate and build up new strength. Now that the heart is strong enough again, which happens in very few cases, it automatically works against the pump's support system to take over the full work again," Popov said.

For Markus T., that meant he was faced with the unusual decision of having the LVAD removed or simply shut down. He opted for the latter. "The decommissioning of the artificial heart was performed minimally invasively, and is only performed at a few highly specialized centers with the appropriate expertise - just like here in Siegburg," reports Prof. Dr. med. Popov.

"I still need a while to completely regain confidence in my heart and its performance, and knowing that the LVAD could be put back into operation at any time has a great reassurance for me," he explains. Over all, it's more the psychological aspects that have left their scars. "Suddenly having to realize that I'm not in control of my body, that did something to me," says the father of two daughters thoughtfully today. But it also changed him in a positive way, he says. Not only can he now celebrate his second birthday on Sept. 29, coincidentally World Heart Day, but it has also made him realize the value of individual moments. "You sometimes live mindlessly into the day. I don't do that anymore, I enjoy every moment," he says, proudly recounting a recent hike with friends and the joy of meeting people anew every day. "After an experience like that, you develop fears, that's very clear. But above all, you develop one thing: an incredible desire to live. And that's something really great!"

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