Beating the Odds With HeartMate II

Mayra Rodriguez's heart has been pumping through advanced heart failure for 10 years thanks to the HeartMate II. Hers isn't the only one.

Healthy Heart|Mar.15, 2019

NOTE TO READERS: Mayra Rodriguez passed away on Feb. 16, 2024. Abbott is grateful to have helped her live her vibrant life. We’re proud to share that she lived more than 15 years after she received her HeartMate II Left Ventricular Assist Device and inspired so many with her health journey. We’ll never forget her.

If you had told Mayra Rodriguez a decade ago that she'd be living her life with as much gusto and energy as she does now — that she'd be exercising every day, running 5K races, hiking, dancing — she might not have believed you.

Ten years ago, she was in the hospital. She had given birth to her son, but the stress pregnancy put on her body, already weakened by cancer treatment, caused her heart to fail. Her doctors weren't sure she'd survive.

The HeartMate II™ Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD), one of Abbott's many life-changing heart technologies, kept her heart pumping. Hers wasn't the only one.

Mommy's "Health Box"

In 2005, Mayra Rodriguez was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

An aggressive course of chemotherapy killed the cancer, but the victory was pyrrhic: The chemo damaged her heart.

When her son, Gabriel, was born in 2007, she figured the shortness of breath and weakness she was feeling was just post-pregnancy fatigue. Eventually, she became so weak and breathless that she couldn't even hold her newborn boy.

Not long after she birthed Gabriel, an infection put Rodriguez back in the hospital. When she didn't get better, her doctors quickly figured out she was dealing with something very serious: advanced heart failure.

Doctors needed a solution — fast. The HeartMate II was her best option, but because her health had so rapidly deteriorated, they weren't sure she would make it through the night following the surgery.

"My lungs were in really bad shape," she said. "The doctor came out and told [my husband] that the surgery went great, but 'We're not sure she's going to make it. We have to go hour by hour.' They gave him a 5 percent chance of life for me."

But she survived the night. Then the week, and the months and years that followed. Soon enough, Rodriguez's health improved to the point where she had the energy to do the small things she couldn't before — climb the stairs, walk from one room to another, bring groceries into the house. But best of all, she could finally cradle her baby — and enjoy every moment of new motherhood with Gabriel, now 11 years old.

"He grew up with it," Rodriguez said. "I always wear my battery in a purse across my chest, and he knows me like that. He says, 'Oh Mommy, that's your health box.'"

Over the years, Rodriguez and her family have celebrated milestones, anniversaries and birthdays — all with the HeartMate device keeping her heart pumping.

"I don't feel any different from anybody," she said. "I just wake up, change the batteries and get up and go. We live our lives to the fullest, honestly. We enjoy every minute that we can."

Keeping 100 Hearts Pumping for 10 Years

Rodriguez's is just one story of success among countless others: All told, HeartMate II has kept more than 100 people going for 10 years or longer.

That's an especially worthy milestone considering the LVAD wasn't originally intended to be a long-term solution.

When developers invented the LVAD, they designed it to be a bridge-to-transplant solution — something that could keep people alive for a few months while they waited to get a donor heart. It wasn't meant to be a long-term therapy option.

But along the way, developers and physicians realized something remarkable: the latest generation heart pump at the time, HeartMate II, had been built to last — and could be much more than an interim treatment. In fact, some patients have been doing so well with their cardiac devices that they might never need a heart transplant at all.

That's welcome news, considering that donor hearts are hard to come by.

More than 6 million Americans are living with heart failure, the American Heart Association says, and 5 percent of them have advanced heart failure, which means approximately 300,000 could be potential candidates for a heart transplant. But donor hearts are scarce: Only about 3,400 heart transplants were performed in 2018, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the waitlist is more than 3,800 names long. Most people wait at least year, often longer, to get a heart — many will never make it to the top of the list — according to the American Journal of Transplantation.

A Life-Saving — and Life-Changing — Device

For her part, Rodriguez doesn't plan to do anything different than what she's doing right now: living life for all its worth, HeartMate and all. At some point, her care team may decide to upgrade to a newer, more compact model, like the FDA-approved HeartMate 3, but for now, the HeartMate II still keeps her heart pumping, day after day. She visits hospitals to share her story with others, spreading awareness and hope that they, too, can one day celebrate their own 10-year milestone with the help of advanced heart technologies and cardiac devices such as the HeartMate.

"It changes your life, it does," she said. "It makes you really thankful for those little things. And I am. I don't want to waste any minute."