How Life Changes with an LVAD
There’s no doubt that having an LVAD is a big adjustment, both for you and your caregiver, as well as your loved ones. Most people who have an LVAD are able to live at home, move freely, enjoy favorite activities and even return to work or school. Many LVAD patients also find they have more energy than they did before, because more oxygen-rich blood is moving through their bodies.
Below are some of the life changes you can expect when you have an LVAD. For more detailed information and tips for everyday life with your LVAD, visit the Living With LVAD section of this site. Or visit the Community Forums to connect with other people with LVADs and their caregivers. Knowing you’re not alone can make the transition much easier.
Learning About Life with an LVAD
The idea of having to learn about a new technology right after heart surgery may seem overwhelming. But your medical team, which may include doctors, LVAD coordinators, nurses, physical and occupational therapists and social workers, will support you throughout the process. They’ll make sure that you and your caregiver know the ins and outs of your LVAD and how it works, and how to make sure it is functioning properly at all times. (Learn more about daily care and maintenance of your equipment.) They’ll also help you learn how to manage daily activities like sleep, hygiene, getting dressed, etc.
After you leave the hospital, you’ll have periodic visits at a specialized clinic or hospital to monitor your health and check how well your LVAD is working. Typically, these visits are weekly at first, and may become less frequent over time. These visits are also an opportunity to ask your doctor or LVAD coordinator questions or raise any concerns you might have.
Once your LVAD is implanted, you’ll be connected to the LVAD external controller and power source at all times. Your device will be on battery power whenever you’re active and connected to electrical power when you are sleeping. You will also need to have an extra controller and fully charged batteries (and power cables if applicable) available at all times as an emergency backup. You’ll need to be sure to take this backup equipment with you whenever you leave home.
Today’s LVADs are lightweight and smaller than earlier models, so you’ll most likely be able to move around fairly easily, get certain kinds of moderate exercise and enjoy intimacy with your spouse or partner. Depending on your medical team’s advice and policies, you may also be able to drive. Children and pets will need to be careful around the equipment so they don't damage it or pull the driveline.
You won’t be able to swim or submerge your body in water because electric parts of the device are worn outside the body. But depending on which device you have, you may be able to shower with your LVAD team’s approval. If this is the case your LVAD team will provide you with specific instructions and precautions for protecting the outer parts of the device while showering. Several pumps have a shower kit for this purpose. Learn more about hygiene.
The cable that exits your skin, known as the driveline, will always require a special dressing change. The frequency and type of dressing you do will be determined by your LVAD team. This helps to keep the site clean to prevent infection and secures the driveline to you body. Your LVAD team will show you and your caregiver how to do this before you leave the hospital, and make sure you’re doing it correctly at your follow-up visits. Learn more about driveline management.
There may be other activity restrictions that your LVAD team will discuss with you. See our list of some of the most important Do’s and Dont's.
Like any major medical event, having an LVAD implanted and adjusting to life with it can be stressful and emotionally difficult at times. You may be anxious about your device not working or about getting an infection. You may find it frustrating to adapt to some of the changes in your daily routine.
It’s important to talk to your LVAD team about how you’re feeling, especially if you start feeling hopeless or sad much or most of the time. They can help get you the support you need. The Forums here on MyLVAD.com can also be a wonderful source of emotional support.