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CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute Hosts Heart Recovery Reunion

Little Rock, Ark. (June 26, 2017) -- With his organs failing and his heart functioning only at 10 percent capacity, Donnie Fitzgerald expected the worst.

"I thought I was a goner," said Fitzgerald, a 67-year-old retired mechanic from Searcy.

Last fall, Fitzgerald suffered a heart attack while undergoing quadruple bypass surgery, and complications from the heart attack prompted cardiologists with CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute to implant the Impella heart pump inside Fitzgerald's heart. The procedure saved his life. Now, Fitzgerald is actively enjoying retirement. He joined other survivors of heart failure and heart attacks recently as they reunited with their CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute clinical care teams at a special Heart Recovery Reunion.

All the patients at the reunion benefited from the Impella heart pump, used more at CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute than at any other hospital in Arkansas. CHI St. Vincent has implanted the Impella device, the world's smallest heart pump, in more than 100 patients.

"This heart pump is one of the many options available to us at CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute for helping our patients and improving lives," Dr. Thurston Bauer said. "We are glad to be able to offer the latest treatments for heart disease, and it was a true honor to be able to reunite with the patients that we have assisted and who have benefited from new technology such as the Impella device."

Impella is designed to provide minimally-invasive, temporary support for patients who have heart failure or are in cardiogenic shock as the result of a heart attack. 

In Fitzgerald's case, his heart attack caused cardiogenic shock, which meant that his heart was too weak to pump blood and oxygen throughout his body. His prognosis was dire. CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute Drs. Michael Bauer and Thurston Bauer, both cardiovascular surgeons, implanted the Impella heart pump to restore blood flow to Fitzgerald's vital organs. The Impella was inserted by threading a catheter through the femoral artery and to his heart’s main pumping chamber. Once inserted, the device propelled blood from Donnie’s left ventricle into his aorta, performing the function of the heart and improving blood flow so the heart could rest, and ultimately recover. 

Once Fitzgerald's heart recovered and was strong enough to pump on its own, he was able to return home to his wife and family, including his seven grandchildren. Today he’s able to exercise regularly and enjoy his well-deserved retirement 

"The doctors and nurses were with me every step of the way," Fitzgerald said. "They gave me a new lease on life."

CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute provides advanced cardiovascular care treatments for high-risk patients using the latest technology, including the Impella heart pump. Impella is the only percutaneous hemodynamic support device determined to be safe and effective for the treatment of elective and emergent high-risk patients by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Impella platform of products was developed by Abiomed Inc., based in Danvers, Massachusetts.