In a first for West Virginia, WVU Heart and Vascular Institute team implants life-saving heart pump

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A 62-year-old Maryland man with a failing heart has received a permanent heart pump in an operation performed for the first time in West Virginia. A team of specialists at the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute (HVI) on Dec. 11 installed the pump, known as a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) for Ken Ritchey of LaVale, Md.

Photo credit: Abbott

An LVAD is necessary for some patients when the heart becomes too weak to pump blood throughout the body, and other methods to treat heart failure would not be effective. The device is surgically implanted and attached to the heart to help it to function. The patient wears a power pack connected to the pump, but outside the body, that allows him to move about freely to enhance quality of life.

“The LVAD provides a lifesaving option for our heart failure patients who do not have many alternatives to treatment. We are so pleased to be able to provide this service to patients in West Virginia as part of our comprehensive Advanced Heart Failure Program,” Vinay Badhwar, M.D., executive chair of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute and chief of cardiac surgery, said. “This now means no one will have to leave the state to obtain this heart failure therapy, and that patients, like Mr. Ritchey, in nearby states, can find help here as well.”

Ritchey suffered a major heart attack in 2002 and underwent an urgent triple bypass operation at the time. He required stents in 2014 and a special pacemaker in 2016, but his heart continued to weaken until it could not adequately support him. When Ritchey was referred to WVU HVI experts in the fall of 2017, his heart was working only at a quarter of normal function. 

Ken Ritchey, 62, of LaVale, Md. (center) stands with the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute team who installed a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) in his failing heart on Dec. 11, marking the first time the operation had been performed in West Virginia. Team members are (left to right) Marco Caccamo, D.O., George Sokos, D.O., Vinay Badhwar, M.D., and Muhammad Salman, M.D.

The WVU team included implanting surgeons Dr. Badhwar and Muhammad Salman, M.D., surgical director of the WVU HVI Advanced Heart Failure Program, and cardiologists Marco Caccamo, D.O., and George Sokos, D.O., medical director of the program. 

“Without the LVAD, Mr. Ritchey’s odds of surviving two years were about 10 percent. Now they’re over 80 percent,” Dr. Sokos said. “He has made an excellent recovery, and he is now at home with improved symptoms and breathing easier.”

“Each day is gradually getting a little bit easier. I can feel that breathing is a lot better,” Ritchey said. “I don’t need to be on oxygen anymore!” 

About 6.5 million American adults are living with heart failure, and that number is expected to increase 46 percent by 2030, according to the American Heart Association. In West Virginia, heart failure is the most common heart-related reason for hospital admission and readmission. Depending on its severity, most cases of heart failure can be managed with medications, pacemakers, or surgery. When those treatments are not options, heart transplantation or a heart pump, such as the LVAD, is necessary.

The mission of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute is to provide the best possible heart and vascular care for patients. Physicians who are recognized as national leaders in their fields have been recruited to care for patients in West Virginia and at clinics throughout the state and region. WVU Medicine is focused on providing access to the most advanced therapies and technology available to every patient in West Virginia and surrounding states.