Revolutionary Heart Device Closes Gender Gap

From the outside, Salina Gonzales looks pretty much like any other shopper — but it's what's going on inside her body that is so remarkable.

A revolutionary electric pump, sewn to Gonzales' heart, keeps blood flowing through her body. The pump spins at 10,000 rotations a minute, and the device has kept her alive, ever since her heart grew dangerously weak more than a year ago.

"It was very difficult. I couldn't walk two steps without being severely short of breath," Gonzales said.

Dr. Roberta Bogaev of the Texas Heart Institute said, "She was dying from heart failure. She probably had 30 days to live."

Gonzales needed a transplant. The challenge was to keep her alive until a donor could be found.

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Were she a man, the solution would have been simple: Implant a pump. But the standard version is too big and too heavy for most women. So, doctors asked Gonzales to test a new, experimental pump, which is one-third the size and weight of the conventional model.

The pump is just below the heart, and the power line runs along one side of Gonzales' body to a mini-computer and power pack.

How does the intimidating contraption feel?

"I don't feel anything," Gonzales said. "Nothing at all."

Dr. Bud Frazier of the Texas Heart Institute said the new pump "can address so many people suffering premature death, because of heart failure, that nothing else can be done for."

Thanks to the state of the art pump, Gonzales gained strength and stamina within three months. By six months, she had returned to a normal life — teaching her second grade class, caring for her 3-year-old son, and exercising avidly. Then, at a checkup a few months ago, she received even better news.

"We saw, by turning the pump down, that her heart had recovered. And in rare cases, we have seen this. That, by resting the heart, the heart function can improve," Bogaev said.

Gonzales was ebullient. "I was just filled with so much joy, so much happiness."

Doctors now plan to remove the pump in the spring. Gonzales no longer needs a transplant. Her own heart should be strong enough to pump on its own.

For a comprehensive listing of Medicine on the Cutting Edge reports with John McKenzie, click here.

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