How Could a Heart Pump Be as Effective as a Transplant?

A new experimental device to help a failing heart is awaiting FDA approval, but it has already helped save the life of one woman who agreed to test it.

When ABC News met Salina Gonzales in January, her heart was attached to a revolutionary new pump that had been keeping her alive.

When we followed up on her story, we found out that the pump had done a lot more than buy her some time until she could receive a transplant.

To learn more about the pump and which medical centers are currently testing it, CLICK HERE.

CLICK HERE to read John McKenzie's January 2008 story on Salina Gonzalez.

Salina, who's only 31, was suffering from severe heart failure. She had the new pump implanted just below her heart and a power line ran down the side of her body to a mini-computer and power pack.

Yet Salina said she didn't feel a thing.

The pump was supposed to keep her alive long enough for her to get a heart transplant. But something amazing began to happen.

Watch "World News with Charles Gibson" TONIGHT at 6:30 p.m. ET for the full report.

The pump allowed Salina to resume a normal lifestyle and exercise daily without actually "straining" her heart. The pump was so effective that after one year, her doctor told her that she didn't need a transplant anymore.

"Her heart had recovered. And in rare cases we have seen this — that by resting the heart, the heart function can improve," Dr. Roberta Bogaev of the Texas Heart Institute said.

Salina's heart had improved so much that it was able to pump on its own and earlier this month doctors surgically removed the pump. She no longer needed it.

Some cardiologists insist there could be many more cases like Salina's. The problem is that most doctors are not taking advantage of the new technology to actually heal a failing heart.

Compared to traditional pumps, this new model is much smaller, lighter and more durable. It can last more than seven years, giving doctors time to adjust a patient's medications, exercise programs and "pump speeds" so the heart can grow stronger.

"We can say that all these patients with idiopathic heart failure, they have the potential … for a normal active life without a transplant and without an assist device," Dr. Bud Frazier of the Texas Heart Institute said.

"The challenge now is to learn how to use this technology most effectively," he said.

For Salina, with her own heart now recovered, she and her son can dream about the future.

"I'm just so pleased," she said. "I'm so happy because I can see him growing up … I can see him graduating from college and getting married, and I know that I will be there. I just know it."

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