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Oklahoma woman's life is saved after left ventricular assist device surgery

Pam Golden, of Longtown, was not expected to live more than a year until she received a left ventricular assist device. The procedure has changed her life, but like any surgery it comes with risks.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: January 24, 2013 at 10:35 pm •  Published: January 24, 2013

Pam Golden remembers when even a simple trip to the grocery store was exhausting.

She couldn't walk through the aisles and had to drive a motorized scooter.

Golden, 67, had significant heart problems. The left side of her heart was pumping at 5 percent of capacity.

“I was desperate for help that I couldn't find,” she said.

In August 2011, Golden got the help she was looking for when doctors in Oklahoma City implanted her with what's known as a left ventricular assist device.

The device takes blood from a lower chamber of the heart and helps pump it to the body and vital organs, just as a healthy heart would, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

A small tube carries blood out of a patient's heart into a pump. Another tube carries blood from the pump to the patient's blood vessels, which deliver blood to the body.

Golden wears a vest that carries the power source and control unit. She cannot take baths or go swimming, as she has a port in her chest with a wire that runs into the unit.

Infection is one of the biggest risks. Golden has a hole in her side with a cord coming out. If the area became infected, she could face serious complications. Other risks include blood clots, bleeding and device malfunction.

Golden is aware of the risks but thinks the surgery was worth it.

About 10 years ago, she had cancer and underwent chemotherapy treatment. The chemotherapy damaged her heart.

She didn't know there was a problem until a few years ago when she went on vacation to Lake Tahoe. The elevation change made it more difficult to breathe, and Golden's problems became more evident.

Early one morning, Golden couldn't breathe. She was taken to the hospital and doctors thought she might have had a heart attack.

“I said, ‘I haven't missed a day of work. How have I had a heart attack?'” Golden said.

All indicators pointed to a heart attack, and it was determined Golden would need open heart surgery. But when doctors opened her chest they found no clogged arteries or damage.

Finding an answer

Cardiologist Dr. Douglas Horstmanshof finally determined what was wrong.

Horstmanshof is the Heart Failure Institute program director at Integris Baptist Medical Center. Since March 2008, he and his colleagues have implanted about 180 left ventricular assist devices in patients from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Kansas.

Horstmanshof said at least 30 percent of the people who are offered the device by Integris doctors would die with their current hearts.

“And in Pam's case, she had reached the point where she probably had less than a 20 percent chance that she was going to survive the year with the heart she had,” he said.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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