The FDA has approved a heart pump to treat COVID-19 patients who have severe heart and lung failure. The approval was an emergency measure to use the Impella heart pump made by Abiomed. The heart pump works with an oxygen machine to treat coronavirus patients with specific heart issues.
Though the Impella isn’t new and has been used before in treating severely ill heart patients, it’s the first such time the Food and Drug Administration has given emergency approval to treat a patient’s heart condition along with ECMO for pandemic patients.
Abiomed’s chief medical officer, Dr. Charles Simonton, said: “It’s been around for a while because people have noticed that if a person has to go on ECMO, sometimes the ECMO puts too much of a load on the heart. But, it does have a unique application for COVID, since there’s no other option like this for patients.”
For one in 10 people infected with the novel coronavirus, the illness results in massive heart inflammation and builds up fluid in an affected patient’s lungs.
One COVID-19 patient, Devan Smith, has firsthand experience with the condition. Smith had no prior heart issues yet had heart inflammation in May along with the virus, and the condition nearly killed him. The 42-year-old received the newly approved heart pump treatment and has now recovered with no permanent damage to his heart.
John Finley, one of Smith’s doctors at Mercy Catholic Medical Center near Philadelphia, said Smith’s heart problem wasn’t a heart attack, but rather myocarditis, which is an inflamed heart muscle.
“No sooner than we’d get him back to the ICU, that he arrested probably 10 to 15 times,” Finley, a cardiologist, commented.
Initially, doctors placed Smith on a ventilator. But, when his heart begun failing, doctors decided to try the heart pump so his heart muscle could rest. Doctors also used an oxygenation machine to send more oxygen in Smith’s bloodstream. The combination of treatments is usually reserved for high-risk cardiac patients.
In less than a week, doctors weaned Smith off the machines, and he recovered a few weeks after.
Smith now has a new appreciation for life. “Two months ago, basically, I would have died,” he said. Smith has now been able to return to his warehouse job in Philadelphia.
The FDA had authorized standalone use of the Impella early this summer to help stabilize COVID patients after removing blood clots in the lungs.
But Smith, along with two other patients, received the combination treatment and all recovered.
“His heart is normal, which is incredible,” Finley said of Smith. Finley and his team performed a cardiac MRI to search for residual inflammation and scarring, but it was normal.