SALT LAKE CITY — Two new mothers — who months ago were close to death — appeared healthy Monday after receiving heart pumps earlier this year.
Both experienced heart problems caused by or activated by their pregnancies and both were given the chance to live by using technology that has been refined over decades by those in the artificial heart program at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute.
On Monday, both women sported a black strap over one shoulder, holding a 3-pound external controller connected to a heart pump inside each of their bodies at the Intermountain Medical Center. This device, HeartWare HVAD, is a left ventricular assist device and is sustaining both women as they wait for heart transplants.
"I'm Bionic Woman now," joked Brandi Marigoni, a recipient of the device. "I would not be alive without the LVAD."
Marigoni started showing signs of heart failure — retaining extra fluid and experiencing shortness of breath and fatigue — about five months into her second pregnancy. The symptoms likely came from an already existing heart condition that Marigoni had not been aware of, according to Deborah Budge, a cardiology physician at Intermountain Medical Center and one of Marigoni's doctors.
At 22 weeks pregnant, Marigoni was admitted to the hospital. She received a temporary heart monitor to help with the delivery of her son Aiden at 28 weeks in July. It was clear that she would need a more permanent solution.
About a week after her second child Madison was born in May, Andrea Duncan — who had never before experienced serious health problems — suffered a spontaneous coronary dissection, which triggered a heart attack. She was attached to a heart and lung machine until her heart could recover. After a few days, it was evident her heart would not be able to function on its own.
Pregnancy-related heart problems are "uncommon but … catastrophic when it happens," said William Caine, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgery physician with Intermountain Healthcare, and one of the doctors who assisted with Duncan's surgery.
The Heartware HVAD is among the newest generation of left ventricular assist devices that Caine estimates have been around for about five years.
The main body of the device connects to the left ventricle and an attachment connects to the aorta to help the left side of the heart pump blood. The device relies on the right side of the heart to pump blood on its own. In the event of a right side failure, both patients received a pacemaker implant. A power cord is connected to the device inside the body and exits through an incision in the abdomen.
It is about a quarter of the size of the first generation and is in trials to be a permanent ventricular assist device for people who do not qualify for transplants, according to Caine. Old heart pumps would have been too large for either of the women's frames, he said, which means they would have had to use pumps that sat outside of their bodies and remain in the hospital until a transplant became available.
The heart pumps are connected to two batteries that have a life of five to six hours apiece. Marigoni and Duncan have to sponge bathe, protect their abdominal incision from infection and recharge the batteries regularly. They have also reached out to local fire stations in the event they have an emergency or that the power goes out.
These women don't seem to mind, given their new chance at life.
"It's not an inconvenience for me, considering the alternative," Duncan said.