BEECH CREEK - Ron Spotts, a lifelong resident of Beech Creek, enjoys skiing, working on the house, gardening and going to Penn State football games with his family.
It's hard to imagine he was in Stage Four heart failure just two years ago. Now, he's living life to its fullest - thanks to revolutionary new cardiovascular technology.
In 2008, Ron was implanted with a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) at Hershey Medical Center as part of a research study by Thoratec Corporation, the manufacturers of the HeartMate II LVAD.
The LVAD is a battery-operated, mechanical pump-type device that is surgically implanted into the body and hooked up to the heart. It helps maintain the pumping ability of a heart that can't effectively work on its own.
The objective of the study in which Ron participated was designed to gather data to help Thoratec get the LVAD approved by the FDA so the device could be used for "destination therapy": indefinite use in the body.
Prior to the study, LVADs were only used as a bridge to patients waiting for a heart transplant. Thanks to the research study, the LVAD has recently been approved for more general use. Patients in need of a heart transplant, or patients over 65 (who are not eligible for heart transplants) now have new hope.
Back in 1995, Ron was diagnosed with a viral pneumonia that attacked his heart and caused Cardiovascular Myopathy. His heart became enlarged and was not working efficiently to move the blood to different parts of his body. As a result, Ron's vital organs would begin to suffer if the myopathy was allowed to progress.
"He managed well with a pacemaker for eight years" said his wife Kathy Spotts. "But the LVAD makes life even easier for him."
According to the couple- and information on the Thoratec Corporation website-the HeartMate II, is designed to take over the pumping function of the left heart ventricle. The device is placed below the diaphragm in the abdomen. It is attached to the left ventricle, and to the aorta which is the main artery that carries oxygenated blood from the left ventricle to the rest of body, including major internal organs.
An external system that includes a small controller and two batteries is attached by an external driveline that connects with the internal device. The system is either worn under or on top of clothing and the two battery packs are worn on either side of the body.
Since the implantation of the device, his cardiac health has improved, his heart has reduced in size and Ron is able to do all the things he did prior to being diagnosed with heart failure.
"It was his goal to see our youngest son Markus graduate and he was able to do that," Kathy said.
Since the procedure, Ron goes for check ups every six months to Hershey where his weight and heart rate are checked and records are kept on his progress.
"It has been proven long term that the device can hold up," said Ron. "I hope it can be used to help many other people who are suffering from heart failure. My circulatory system is better than is has been in 15 years since I was diagnosed."
Ron and Kathy hope that the newly approved device will be able to help others in the same situation.
"The sooner people learn about it, the better. If the heart problems are caught early enough, the LVAD can actually reduce heart failure and the heart can actually begin to heal itself," Ron said.
In the case of some younger patients, the heart had made a full recovery, they noted.
"What is important to know is that the LVAD doesn't make the heart beat for you, it is an assistance device that works with your heart so it is not pumping so hard on its own. It lets the heart rest and get better," Ron said.
The news of former Vice President Dick Cheney receiving the device prompted Ron and Kathy to take action to inform others about the possible life-saving device.
"The word has to get out now," Ron said. "Where your health is concerned you can't take chances. And the sooner the cardiologist makes a referral to the LVAD the better chance you have of recovering."
"It's important for everyone to be aware of it. Heart problems are not just a concern for older people. The virus that attacked Ron can get to anyone," Kathy said.
Ron is the only person in the immediate area to have received the device.
"I'd really like to thank Robert Trautwein, the cardiologist at Susquehanna Cardiology, because he is responsible for telling me about the study at Hershey and the team at Hershey Medical Center, cardiologist, Dr. John Boehmer, Dr. Ali El-Banayosy the head of the LVAD program, Susan Wallace the LVAD coordinator and Walter Pae the surgeon."
Dr. Ali El-Banayosy recently came to the center from Germany, where LVAD systems were already in use for destination therapy.
According to Spotts the LVAD requires a serious commitment.
"You have to take care of yourself, respect the rules the doctors tell you and fully understand what you are getting yourself into," Ron said. "Like with any surgical procedure, there are a lot of risks involved and you have to be prepared for that."
"Afterward you and your care giver have to understand how to cope with the device, the demands heart complications have your physical and spiritual health," Kathy continued. "The spiritual health is important..."
"If you don't have a religion before having surgery, you will want to get one," Ron commented.
Kathy smiled and patted his arm, "God has blessed him with good health."
The Spottses formed a support group for other LVAD patients at Hershey Medical Center. The group is open to patients in all stages of the LVAD program to lend support to those in need and share experiences.
"I was really fortunate to have family, friends, knowledgeable doctors and my faith to get me through this. Some people are not as fortunate, you look at their situations and realize how lucky you are," Ron said. "It helps to be able to talk to someone who has been through it successfully. I have ... and I'd like to share that with others."
For more information on LVAD systems, visit the Thoratec Corporation Web site at www.thoratec.com.