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A Heart Again as Strong as His Affection

This spring, Khawar Paracha had a choice to make: Undergo surgery for his failing heart, or say goodbye to his family.

Mr. Paracha, 49, suffered from severe heart failure for 15 years. Frequent instances of cardiogenic shock - when the heart suddenly can't pump enough blood through the body - required trips to an emergency department. Mr. Paracha became familiar with many hospitals in the area, but preferred North Shore University Hospital (NSUH).

After one hospitalization at a different facility, Mr. Paracha's treatments and medications prevented him from getting adequate sleep. He knew he needed immediate medical attention. Knowing an ambulance would take him to a local hospital with unfamiliar providers, he asked his wife, Sarwat, and sister to drive him to the Heart Hospital at NSUH.

"When I arrived at the Heart Hospital, a team of doctors told me I was too sick to wait for a heart transplant, and my heart wouldn't make it without emergency help," Mr. Paracha said. "They told me about a procedure that could save my life. For me, it was a no-brainer."

The only option

His daughter's college graduation was rapidly approaching, and Mr. Paracha wanted to see her walk across the stage.

"We offered Mr. Paracha an alternative that would allow him to return to everyday activities," said Harold Fernandez, MD, system director of surgical heart failure for Northwell Health and chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Southside Hospital. "His condition was critical, so the newly created ventricular assist device team moved quickly to implant a left ventricular assist device [LVAD] to keep the left chamber of his heart pumping."

An LVAD creates a passage from the left ventricle to the aorta. This mechanical pump helps a severely weakened heart pump blood effectively. Patients need to ensure the device is always connected to its external battery pack and control system.

Three days after entering NSUH, Mr. Paracha was the first patient to receive the LVAD at the Heart Hospital. Since then, the hospital has earned The Joint Commission's advanced certification for ventricular assist device destination therapy - making it the only Nassau County facility to qualify.

"The Heart Hospital continuously works to improve care and quality of life for advanced heart failure patients, who often have limited treatment options," said Alessandro Bellucci, MD, executive director at NSUH. "And since we earned The Joint Commission's advanced certification in less than a year, it's a real affirmation of our efforts in this evolving field."

When Mr. Paracha awoke after the four-hour implantation procedure, he felt noticeably better and couldn't wait to return home to his wife and seven children. Mr. Paracha's improvement continued during his recovery period, and after a thorough educational process about the device, he was released from the hospital.

quotation mark A team of doctors told me I was too sick to wait for a heart transplant, and my heart wouldn’t make it without emergency help. They told me about a procedure that could save my life. For me, it was a no-brainer.
Khawar Paracha

His new normal

Mr. and Ms. Paracha met with members of the multidisciplinary ventricular assist device team - social workers, nurses, nutritionists, internists, critical care physicians and cardiac surgeons, among others - to learn about living with the LVAD.

"The LVAD is restorative, but patients have to know how to use it," said Gerin Stevens, MD, PhD, Northwell Health's medical director of heart failure. "For example, the external power source connects to the pump via a power cord that passes through the abdomen. If there is any problem with that connection, an alarm sounds. Nurse practitioner Kathleen Davidson, our coordinator of ventricular assist devices, spends a lot of time with patients to ensure they become experts at managing their own device."

Ms. Davidson teaches patients and caregivers the ins and outs of LVADs. She also teaches them how to prepare and place a sterile dressing. She walks patients through the entire experience and serves as a resource as they adjust to living with the device.

"Learning the process was easy with Kathleen's help," Ms. Paracha said. "The lessons before the procedure were great preparation for life after my husband's surgery. I change his dressing once a week and he manages his device. If we ever have a question, we call Kathleen."

Now back at work, Mr. Paracha enjoys his family's milestone events (like graduations), grateful for the ventricular assist device team at the Heart Hospital and his wife's constant support.

How an LVAD works

Congestive heart failure weakens the heart muscle so it can't pump enough blood to the rest of the body. A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) can return circulation to normal.

  • Blood passes from the left ventricle, through a continuous flow pump and into the aorta.
  • A wire passes through the skin in the abdomen, connecting the pump to the external system controller and battery pack.
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