Why should I be worried that I have the misfortune to be clobbered with heart failure at such a young age in my life? (Hey, my friends keep telling me that 60 is the new 40!). Maybe it is time to look at the cup as running over with good fortune. Indeed, I have decided I am lucky that my heart failure waited until the 21st century before it arrived on my door step.
Why? Because this is a time when so many advances have been made, and there are many others in the pipeline. The innovation in the development of heart devices and treatments is uplifting, fascinating, and truth be told, maybe just a little weird.
I am truly blessed to be associated with a Heart and Vascular Institute that participates in research and clinical trials. There is a section of their website discussing the various on-going trials they support. I find even just the names fascinating. The following are just a few I find interesting, with my own descriptions for these projects:
Galactic HF or: George Jetson Meets the Medical World
Soprano or: Prima Donnas Healing the Heart With Opera
Parachute IV or: Skydive Your Way to Heart Health!
Humor aside, the descriptions I found on-line demonstrate that these trials are just a few of the many trials out there that give heart failure patients much hope. For example, Galactic HF is a drug trial. “Galactic” is an acronym for: Global Approach to Lowering Adverse Cardiac Outcomes Through Improving Contractility in Heart Failure. I am pretty clueless as to what the word Contractility means. But I do get the drift that if this drug is successful, it will be a huge benefit to many heart failure patients.
The PARACHUTE study will determine if the parachute device can slow the progression of heart failure, reduce hospitalizations due to heart failure, and improve quality of life. The parachute is a catheter based partitioning device. The device looks like a parachute, which I assume is the reason why it is called a Parachute device.
The parachute device is placed within the left ventricle for patients who have developed ischemic heart failure following a heart attack. The parachute device implants partitions in the damaged muscle, isolating the non-functional muscle segment from the functional segment. This decreases the overall volume and restores a more normal geometry and function in the left ventricle.
Okay, when I found this explanation on-line, I understood maybe half of the words in the explanation. But I was really impressed. Who knew that my left ventricle could perform normal geometric functions? Geometry was one of the courses that nearly ruined my grade point average in high school! Maybe my heart is smarter than me?
The advances are not just in medications or devices. Researchers are developing new tests that can help doctors diagnose heart failure earlier, and tests to track the progress of a heart failure patient. I continually see commercials from INOVA Hospital about genetic testing. This is an important advance in identifying the patients who may be at risk for heart failure or other problems.
For example, genetic testing can identify people who are at risk for atrial fibrillation, a condition that could ultimately raise their odds of heart failure. (Atrial fibrillation, also referred to as AFib, is an irregular and often rapid heart rate. Atrial fibrillation symptoms often include heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness.)
Newer blood tests can help your doctor make an early diagnosis and also determine if your drugs are causing problems. One such test will check your level of troponin. As I understand it, when the levels of troponin increase, the level of damage that to your heart also increases.
I think some of the most interesting treatment options currently being developed are the ones I find out about while reading the Washington Post newspaper or listening to the news on television. One day I was scanning the Health Section of the Washington Post. An article about research on a Robotic Sleeve caught my attention. The first sentence of the article said: "Scientists are developing a robotic sleeve that can encase a flabby diseased heart and gently squeeze to keep it pumping."
Other than the fact that the fashionista in me shudders at the description of her heart as “flabby”, it sound like a really great option. So far it’s been tested only in animals, improving blood flow in pigs. But the article said that the “soft robotic” device mimics the natural movements of a beating heart, and could be a strategy for next-generation treatments of deadly heart failure.” The researchers want to study whether the sleeve’s ability to physically move a damaged heart muscle might spur the muscle to heal and require less assistance from the robotic sleeve over time.
Shortly after I saw the article on the robotic sleeve, I began to see reports on “spinach growing heart tissue.” Here is how WebMD describes the genesis of this project: “ Glenn Gaudette, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, was eating lunch with a graduate student. He began to look at the spinach leaf in ways he had not before. Due to its structure, they thought it might help them overcome a tremendous challenge in heart regeneration — getting blood flow to regenerated tissue after a heart attack.”
This lunchtime conversation apparently led to lab experiments and the creation of beating human heart cells on spinach leaves stripped of the plant cells. To me this is a totally unpredictable lunch time conversation that led to a phenomenal result. (But totally predictable and typical in the reports in the media were the constant references to Popeye and his love for spinach. I can only hope that this does not mean that future heart patients with spinach generated heart tissue will be required to display anchor tattoos on their arms.)
I am just so impressed by all that is being done by researchers on the heart failure/heart disease front. I realize that there were research and development efforts in the 20th century. After all pacemakers and defibrillators were the products of mid-20th century R&D efforts. But I have to think that the constant, continual and rapid advances in technology have also sped up development of some pretty fantastic devices, meds and tests.
The bottom line is that as long as there is a medical industry to do research and development, hope will spring eternal for us heart patients. If you cannot have a strong heart, a strong, abiding hope is an outstanding second choice.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.