A ventricular assist device (VAD) can help patients with heart failure

heart-mate-3 universal

The HeartMate III is an example of a left ventricular assist device used by heart failure specialists at UChicago Medicine.

As heart failure progresses, some patient’s symptoms can become so bad that day-to-day activities become challenging. When this occurs they may be given the option of receiving a mechanical heart pump called a ventricular assist device (VAD).

To get a better idea of what a VAD is and who typically needs one, we spoke with the University of Chicago Medicine’s Ben Chung, MD, a heart failure specialist.

The term heart failure sounds scary. What exactly is it?

The term heart failure doesn’t exactly mean that the heart no longer works. People with heart failure often feel short of breath, consistently tired, and develop swelling of their feet or abdomen.

“In reality, the disease of heart failure encompasses a wide range of stages,” said Chung. “Some people have abnormal heart function based on testing but no symptoms, while others are so sick they can’t leave the hospital. Our goal as heart failure specialists is to manage patients at any point in their disease, and help to get their hearts as strong as possible.”

Why a VAD?

Cardiologists may recommend a VAD if:

  • You are waiting for a heart transplant.
  • Your heart failure is temporary and the heart needs the device to assist in pumping blood until it heals.
  • As a long-term treatment for heart failure.

How does a VAD help heart failure patients?

A VAD can strengthen the heart by essentially taking over its main function. The device is a mechanical pump that is surgically attached directly to the main pumping chamber of the heart. It helps pump blood from the heart to the rest of the body so that more blood and oxygen gets to where it is needed.

What is the experience of getting a VAD like for patients?

Receiving a VAD is a major open heart surgery, so we work to get patients in the best shape possible going into the surgery. Recovery, which takes two to three weeks, begins in the intensive care unit (ICU) and then shifts to physical therapy and rehabilitation.

“We first see many of our patients when they're very sick and scared about their future,” said Chung. “They know things are not right with their heart but they don’t always know all the options that are available to them. It’s hard to hear they need a heart pump and maybe a transplant. But once the patient has recovered from VAD surgery and feels healthy again, nothing compares to hearing that they're spending more time with their children and grandchildren, traveling again, and getting back to the life they want to live.”


Ben Chung, MD

Ben Chung, MD specializes in the care of patients with cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, heart transplantation, ventricular assist devices (VADs) and mechanical circulatory support.

Learn more about Dr. Chung
Jordan Porter-Woodruff
Jordan Porter-Woodruff

Jordan Porter-Woodruff is a marketing communications specialist at UChicago Medicine.