Living with a LVAD

Chris Smith, who has an LVAD

Chris Smith, 51, was treated with an LVAD in 2010, following his second heart attack.

Chris, from Derby, says: “I’d already had a heart attack in 2006, which I recovered from well, but after the second one, in 2010, I knew I wasn’t right. I had no energy and was really breathless; walking up a flight of stairs was pretty much out of the question. My cardiologist told me that I had severe heart failure and referred me to Papworth Hospital.

“Mr Tsui’s team said I needed a heart transplant, but that I’d have to have an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) first to get well enough to be eligible. Since I’ve had it, I feel so much better, but it’s been a gradual improvement. Over time, the breathing got easier. I found I had more energy and could walk further. After about four months, I was in much better shape, so I was put on the transplant list. At the moment, I try to be as active as I can. I get out every day and walk Rosie, and I go the gym for cardiac rehab every week.

“Before I left hospital, the staff there talked me through how the LVAD works and how to change the batteries. After I got home, the team from Papworth came to see me and we visited my GP, the cardiac rehab team and the local A&E to explain the LVAD to them, too. I found changing a battery daunting at first, but now I can do it without even looking. Initially, I used to panic when the battery alarm went off, but now I’m a lot more relaxed – you have quite a bit of time between it going off and the battery running out.

"Once I got better, I started to realise how amazing the LVAD is"

“Overnight, I plug the LVAD into the mains, so there’s constant power supply. Then in the morning, I’ll have fully charged batteries. To begin with, I found it awkward to sleep as there are lots of wires and Velcro, but now I don’t even notice them. I have to be careful when I have a shower as the LVAD shouldn’t get wet. I have a waterproof bag to put it in and then I hold the shower head to wash myself, avoiding the device.

“At first, I had to go for a check-up every few weeks, but they’ve told me that I’m stable and my blood tests are good, so now I only have to go every six months. I speak to the team over the phone fairly regularly, though, and they are always happy to chat to me if I’ve got specific worries.

“When the doctors first told me I needed an LVAD, it was so hard to take in. I’d never even heard of one before and I was still trying to get my head around the fact that I needed to have a heart transplant. Once I got better, I started to realise how amazing the LVAD is and that it’s such a vital stepping stone to a heart transplant.”

Read our introduction to LVADs

Related publications