Health Report: Scripps Program Enrolls LVAD Patients in Ambassador Program

Scripps Health recently expanded a program aimed at easing the way for cardiac patients facing a challenging diagnosis and preparing for life-saving surgery. What makes the program even more special is that it taps into the knowledge and insight of other patients who already have gone through the same experience.

The new LVAD Ambassador program is designed to help heart failure patients who are going to be implanted with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a type of mechanical heart pump that helps a weak heart move blood through the body. Batteries are worn outside the body and are connected to the device through a power cord that runs into the body.

For many patients, the LVAD is a stepping stone while they wait for a permanent solution to their life-threatening condition: a heart transplant. For others who aren’t eligible for transplant, an LVAD serves as a permanent solution.

“When heart failure patients reach the point of needing an LVAD, their health had deteriorated significantly and they are facing challenging decisions that will have a huge effect on their lives and the lives of their caregivers,” Scripps cardiologist J. Thomas Heywood, M.D., said. “Having someone to talk with who has already gone through the same process can reduce anxiety and help patients better plan for what lies ahead.”

Part of the problem is that most people have never even heard of the LVAD or know that such a device exists for people facing heart failure.

That’s when someone such as Jim Bischoff steps in. Bischoff is the first former LVAD patient at Scripps to be certified as an ambassador. He was implanted with an LVAD in October 2012 after Dr. Heywood told him that he might not live beyond the holidays due to his failing heart. Eleven months later, Bischoff received a heart transplant.

Ambassadors serve as can serve as guides, advisers and friends to new LVAD patients, Bischoff said.

“There is much to learn about living with this kind of device for both the patient and his or her caregiver,” he said.  “An ambassador who has already gone through this experience can help illuminate the process of getting an LVAD.”

Ambassadors also get something by sharing their knowledge and support with other patients, Boschoff said. “It’s one way to give back for the life-saving care you’ve received.”

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