Pump Gives New Hope To Heart Patients

Salina Gonzales and her son, Scott Gonzales. Salina received an experimental heart pump that enabled her heart heal itself.
Three years ago, 27-year-old Salina Gonzales was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and was told she had just one month to live.

She thought she had only one option: a heart transplant.

But with time running out, doctors installed an experimental pump in her chest.

And her heart began to heal itself.

Gonzales and her 4-year-old son, Scott, appeared on The Early Show Friday, to talk about the pump with the doctor who suggested the device, Dr. Roberta Bogaev, a cardiologist from the Texas Heart Institute.

"This is my motivation to stay alive," said Gonzales as she held her son. "Because I have to keep on fighting for him."

Bogaev said the heart is still confounding doctors.

"We're still somewhat baffled how the heart heals itself," Bogaev told Early Show co-anchor, Maggie Rodriguez, "although we've known for years that when the heart is rested, it can heal. Surgeons, early on, found when patients were supported with this device and they went to the operating room to take their heart out for a transplant, the heart was amazingly recovered."

And since the pump was removed last April, Gonzales' life has improved.

"(My life has) changed dramatically. I mean, I couldn't do so many things. And now I can just be a normal mother, have a normal life."

Bogaev said Gonzales' heart failure is in remission.

"I'm feeling fantastic," Gonzales said.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of women over age 25. Though transplants offer hope for approximately 2,000 advanced heart failure patients each year, more than 250,000 patients have no viable treatment option.

And women receive fewer options because the most common pump -- a stopgap treatment while waiting to get a transplant -- is too large for their bodies.

But the device that saved Gonzales, the Heart Mate II, is small enough to be used in a woman. The pump is attached to the left ventricle, and takes on the job of pumping blood through the heart. A thin cable attaches to a hand-held controller and a battery pack Gonzales carried with her at all times.

However, enrollment in the clinical trial that uses this device is very limited. To become part of the trial, visit HeartHope.com. If you're a patient with advanced heart disease and you're not a heart transplant candidate, this technology is not available to you at this time.

But that all could change.

According to Bogaev, the Food and Drug Administration is considering the device for use in patients who aren't transplant candidates.

Bogaev said, "This device brings incredible hope to those patients who have a mortal illness and allows them to get back into the game of life."