Heart Health

Updated 25 October 2016

SEE: This is what a mechanical heart looks like

Having a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) is basically like having two hearts – one of which is a mechanical device.

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Recently 10-year-old Philasande Dladla from KwaZulu-Natal was the first child in Africa to receive a mechanical heart device after contracting cardiomyopathy, a chronic heart disease.

Read more: KZN boy gets lifesaving ‘mechanical heart device'

The ten-year-old, who enjoys hockey and swimming, contracted cardiomyopathy, a chronic disease of the heart, as a result of a viral infection last year. His parents thought the infection was just a bout of flu. However, it quickly damaged Philasande’s heart and heart valves, resulting in heart failure. 

Dr Willie Koen, who pioneered the use of mechanical heart implantation in South Africa, led the surgical team that implanted the hi-tech lifesaving HeartWare Ventricular Assist Device (VAD).

"Philasande’s journey has been a most remarkable one and we are delighted that he has recovered so well that he is being discharged from hospital with renewed vigour and a smile on his face," Koen said earlier this year. 

But what exactly is a so-called mechanical heart? And how does it function?

‘Support heart function’

Doctors call this device a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD). According to the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute it’s “a mechanical pump that’s used to support heart function and blood flow in people who have weakened hearts”.

Blood from the lower chamber of the heart, is pumped to the vital organs of the body, exactly as a normal heart would do it. This way a person essentially ends up with “two” hearts.

Below is an illustration of the VAD pumping blood to the aorta. It is connected to a battery pack, which is worn outside the body. The different components of the device are indicated.

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