Background: Ventricular assist devices (VADs) are an accepted therapy for patients with end-stage heart failure. The implantable devices that are available produce a pulsatile flow and are very large. In 6 patients, beginning in November 1998, we started to use the continuous-flow implantable DeBakey VAD device, which weighs 93 g. To detect the flow in peripheral vessels, we measured transcranial Doppler signals in patients after implantation.
Methods and results: Transcranial Doppler studies were performed with the MULTI-DOP X4 device with two 2-MHz probes (for the middle cranial arteries) in 4 patients for up to 12 weeks twice weekly after implantation. The blood velocity was measured, and the pulsation index (PI) calculated. The measured pump flow and rotations per minute were registered. The preoperative echocardiographic assessment values were compared with those acquired 6 weeks after implantation. The PI increased continually in all patients after VAD implantation, left ventricular (LV) ejection fraction did not improve, but right ventricular (RV) ejection fraction after implantation improved compared with preoperative values. The LV end-diastolic diameter after implantation decreased between 11% and 46% intraindividually. There was no correlation between PI and blood pressure or, except in 1 patient, between PI and blood flow through the VAD.
Conclusions: The DeBakey VAD unloads the LV, which leads to a decrease in LV end-diastolic LV diameter and to the restoration of RV function. The unloaded LV and partially recovered RV provide a nearly physiological pulsatile flow despite the continuous flow of the VAD. Pulsatility is independent of peripheral vascular resistance. The first clinical experience with the DeBakey VAD was positive and has resulted in its continued use.