Healing A (Literally) Broken Heart

Salina Gonzales needed a heart transplant but couldn't get one. Instead, she got a left ventricle assitive device or LVAD, which not only alleviated her symptoms but allowed her heart to heal itself, so that it could later be removed.
CBS
Salina Gonzales' heart was broken - literally - and then healed.

It's all thanks to a highly unusual medical procedure that holds promise for the thousands of people every year who need a heart transplant and can't get one, as CBS Evening News Saturday anchor Jeff Glor reports.

Just over three years ago, Gonzales, 27, was told that she had one month to live.

Suffering from congestive heart failure, doctors said she needed a heart transplant to survive.

"I can remember being in the hospital and looking out the window and wanting to be outside," she said.

But with no transplant available, Dr. Roberta Bogeav of the Texas Heart Institute found another way to keep her alive - by installing an experimental pump in her chest, called an LVAD.

"[The device] inserts into the left ventricle to assist it this is the main housing on the pump which spins in revolutions per minute very similar to an axle pump in a car," Bogeav said.

Six months after the procedure, the pump was working surprisingly well, and Gonzales resumed her work as an elementary school teacher

"I had to be very careful. I couldn't jump. I couldn't get it wet. So it was a life changing experience but it's really what saved my life so I carried it with happiness," said Gonzales, who had to carry a battery pack for the LVAD.

Then something even more miraculous happened. While the pump was doing all the work, Gonzales' damaged heart was able to repair itself.

Around this time last year Dr. Bogeav and her team at the Heart Institute were so confident with the progress of Gonzales' heart that they removed the pump altogether.

A year later,, Gonzales says she has a normal life, spending time with her son, taking him to t-ball practice, and even excercising.

But Gonzales' outcome is unusual. Of the 2,300 patients worldwide who have received the pump, fewer than 1 percent have recovered to this level.

Now, on the anniversary of her pump removal, Gonzales has a newly healed heart, and a whole new outlook on life.

"Before, I would live my life, you know, I had faith, but I had fear in my life," she said. "Now I just have no fear."

Gonzales is on medication designed to maintain her heart function without the pump for life.