ANN ARBOR — Math and physics teacher Darol Straub, 65, of Ann Arbor, helped high school and community college students make sense of the laws of motion, but by spring of this year his heart struggled to pump.

On May 7 he was implanted with a left ventricular assist device that pumps blood in a way his failing heart no longer could. It was a milestone for Straub and the UM Cardiovascular Center, which marked its 500th heart implant.

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“I woke up feeling better,” says Straub, a husband and father of three.

LVADs are used in patients with very advanced heart failure as a last resort to help them survive the wait for a heart transplant, or serve as a permanent alternative to heart transplantation.

The team at the UM Center for Circulatory Support secures its place as the top implanting center in the state and one of the highest-volume LVAD programs in the nation.

“For patients in severe chronic or acute heart failure, heart-assisting technology can offer a gateway to better long-term quality of life,” says Keith Aaronson, M.D., medical director of the heart transplant program and Center for Circulatory Support at the U-M Cardiovascular Center.

The UM was the first hospital in Michigan to implant heart-assist devices for patients awaiting transplant.  Center clinicians and researchers have provided leadership in the clinical investigation of most of the implantable circulatory support devices in use today.

Makers of heart devices including Heartware, Terumo, Syncardia, and Thoratec are working with physicians at the UM to help more Americans than ever survive heart failure. As new devices become available, both in clinical trials and after federal approval, UM patients are often the first to benefit from their use.

The University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center will examine earlier device use for the large and growing group of Americans with heart failure in an upcoming clinical trial called REVIVE-IT.

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In REVIVE-IT, researchers will compare whether patients with heart failure less advanced than that of current LVAD recipients and are not eligible for a heart transplant do better with implanted devices than with current medical therapy.

“Our work may advance the treatment of heart failure by evaluating whether technology now reserved for very severe heart failure is ready for application to a broader group of patients in need,” says cardiac surgeon and director of the UM Center for Circulatory Support Francis D. Pagani, M.D., Ph.D., who performed the 500th implant this spring.

UM surgeons, cardiologists, advanced practice nurses and others combine their expertise to monitor the progress of circulatory support patients and provide comprehensive support.

Pre-operation counseling and a monthly support group are available for pre-and post-heart transplant patients, as well as those with LVADs or those who are considering getting an LVAD.

Patients from around the country have been implanted with left ventricular assist devices at the U-M which has 110 patients currently on a device. The program’s one-year survival rate is 97.4 percent, which far exceeds national trends.

LaVisha McDonald, of Saginaw, walks two to three miles every other day and not many people on a heart transplant list can say that.

“Most people waiting for transplant surgery … Their life is on hold. My doctor told me to go live,” says McDonald, a mother of six who was implanted with a heart device at the U-M.

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More about the UM Center for Circulatory Support at www.med.umich.edu/cardiac-surgery/patient/adult/ccs. More about LaVisha’s story at www.michigandifference.org/victor-stories/lavishia.html.