ANN ARBOR — JoeAnn Bivins of Detroit got a heart support implant in July 2005 called a HeartMate II Left Ventricular Assist Device from Pleasanton, Calif.-based Thoratec Corp. (Nasdaq: THOR). The implantation took place at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center.

Nearly eight years later, the implant is still humming along. And it allows Bivins, 68, of Detroit, to live her life virtually free of the symptoms of heart failure.

According to the American Heart Association, there are approximately 5.8 million individuals living with chronic heart failure in the United States, many of whom may face a similar decision to the one made by Bivins almost eight years ago. Her  heart had become too weak to adequately pump blood, leaving her tired and weak. 

Francis D. Pagani, M.D., Surgical Director of the Adult Heart Transplant Program and Director of the Center for Circulatory Support, told Bivins that her condition could improve with the help of an LVAD, the HeartMate II. Bivins elected to have the surgery, and she now describes her life as being as close to normal as she could imagine. 

Today, she sings with her church choir, attends Bible study, heads the church usher board, and stays active and social with her sisters and son by her side. She also speaks with patients who are considering LVAD treatment for their heart failure condition, encouraging them to regain the life they once knew as well. 

The fact that she is now the longest surviving patient with a heart assist device came as a surprise to her. 

“I didn’t even realize my journey was so significant,” Bivins said. “I was too busy living my life to the fullest. It’s certainly something special to be given a second chance, and it’s even more of a blessing to know that my story can give others with heart failure the same hope I have every day, which is to continue to be saved by my wonderful doctors and nurses, and my HeartMate II.”

Bivins’ experience has been validated by clinical studies, in which HeartMate II has demonstrated significant improvements in quality of life as well as reductions in symptoms of heart failure. Bivins hopes her story will encourage people suffering from heart failure to know they have a choice and a path to a better life. 

“Joe Ann is truly a star patient, and her ability to continue to thrive is a testament to how well LVAD therapy works for patients in heart failure to alleviate their heart failure symptoms and give them back an improved quality of life,” Pagani said.   “We encourage people who are battling heart failure to speak with their doctors about treatment with an LVAD. Joe Ann is living proof that this therapy can turn lives around.”

HeartMate II is a heart pump called an LVAD, which helps the left side of the heart to circulate blood to the rest of the body. It is implanted alongside the heart and supplements the heart’s pumping function. The HeartMate II system also includes accessories that are worn outside the body, including a controller and batteries that last more than ten hours, allowing patients to be active. 

HeartMate II is the most widely used and extensively studied LVAD in the world.  In clinical testing, more than 80 percent of HeartMate II recipients became virtually free of heart failure symptoms shortly after implant and sustained those improvements for the full two-year follow-up period. Moreover, controlled clinical trials as well as large-scale commercial experience have demonstrated significant improvement in patients’ functional capacity, with 94 percent of HeartMate II recipients able to perform the 6-minute walk test after six months of support.   Overall, many patients report returning to active living, with meaningful improvements in their quality of life. To date, more than 13,000 patients have been implanted with HeartMate II, including approximately 6,000 currently on support.  HeartMate II is the only continuous-flow LVAD approved by the FDA for both Bridge-to-Transplantation and Destination Therapy, or permanent support.

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