New medical device for heart patients being utilized at Raleigh General

November 7, 2017

With a new medical device at their disposal, Raleigh General Hospital's cardiology staff can more effectively treat heart attack patients.  

The device, called Impella, was utilized by Raleigh General's interventional cardiologist Dr. Alejandro Ascencio during his work at the University of Arizona. 

After advocating for the use of the device in Beckley, Raleigh General's administration approved the doctor's request. 

"This is really going to help save people's lives," Ascencio said. "Especially people who are very sick."

Representatives with Abiomed, the medical device manufacturer that designed Impella, recently trained Raleigh General's Coronary Care Unit (the intensive care unit for cardiac patients), the catheterization laboratory staff and the HealthNet Aeromedical Services team how to use the life-saving device. 

Ascencio said the technique previously employed by the hospital was an intra-aortic balloon pump. 

"It helped, but nothing like this," Ascencio said.

The FDA-approved Impella device is inserted through a standard catheterization procedure through the femoral artery, into the ascending aorta, across the valve and into the left ventricle. The Impella motor pumps blood from the left ventricle through an inlet area near the tip and expels blood from the catheter into the ascending aorta.

"Even with a heart not beating well, it still works. It gives you cardiac output," Ascencio explained. "Normal cardiac output is 5 liters. The Impella 2.5 will still give you 2.5 liters of cardiac output."

For more serious cases of heart failure, the Impella CP can be utilized, which allows 4 liters of cardiac output. 

When someone is having an acute heart attack, one of their coronary arteries has become suddenly blocked. Ascencio said the mortality rate for someone having an acute heart attack is 50 percent. 

The Impella buys the medical professional some time to unclog the patient's arteries with angioplasty, a procedure used to restore normal blood flow to the heart. 

Ascencio said studies are currently under way to see how survival rates improve with the use of Impella, but he believes it will help save patients' lives. 

"This is a very neat device," he said. "It was something that I was really looking forward to getting here."

The devices are expensive, Ascencio noted. 

"It's not something that generates revenue. But it's not about revenue. It's about being able to help people."

Patients will be monitored in the intensive care unit until they recover, and the device can be removed. But if the patient needs more intense care than what Raleigh General can provide, patients can be transported with the Impella in place. 

He said the hospital receives calls for transfer from lower level trauma centers, such as Greenbrier Valley Medical Center or the Beckley VA Medical Center. Before the hospital started using Impella, patients would oftentimes have to be transferred elsewhere, such as Charleston or Morgantown. 

But now, patients can come first to Raleigh General for triage and potential further care. 

"I felt we didn't have the immediate tools to help these people make it. Now we do."