What is a ventricular assist device (VAD)?

A ventricular assist device (VAD) is a mechanical pump a surgeon implants inside or outside your child's chest and connects to the heart during open-heart surgery. A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) helps the heart pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. A right ventricular assist device (RVAD) helps pump oxygen-poor blood to the lungs. Some patients need a device that does both. A VAD can be used for patients waiting for a heart transplant or for patients whose heart muscle needs to rest.

What's special about VADs at Seattle Children's?

Seattle Children's is the only pediatric heart center in the Pacific Northwest with the depth of expertise to offer every type of therapy for heart failure, including VADs. Our VAD program is part of a comprehensive approach to caring for children and adolescents with complex congenital heart disease. We offer the full spectrum of treatment, including the most advanced medical and surgical options. Seattle Children's Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) was created for the needs of patients, families and caregivers.

We can choose the device that's best for your child

Because Seattle Children's offers many types of VADs, including newer options not available at every hospital, we can choose the device that's best for your child. Deciding which type to use depends on your child's age and health.

Berlin Heart  

This device, with sizes just for children, can support the left or right ventricle, or both, in a child of any age. It sits outside the body and is connected to the heart with tubes. Your child will need to stay in the hospital while using the Berlin Heart.

CentriMag centrifugal pump  

This device is used on a short-term basis in children and adolescents to provide support until another device can be placed, until the patient recovers, or to stabilize a patient until transplant. The CentriMag lies outside the body and can be used for either left- or right-side heart support. Your child will need to stay in the hospital while using the CentriMag.

HeartMate II  

This device supports the left ventricle and is used in adolescents and adults. The HeartMate II is placed inside your child's chest and is connected to the heart and to a wire that comes out through the skin to a control device and power source. Most patients can leave the hospital with the HeartMate II.

SynCardia Total Artificial Heart (TAH)  

Unlike other devices that support only part of the heart, this device can be used to do the work of both sides of the heart. Like the HeartMate II, it is used in adolescents and adults. The SynCardia TAH is implanted inside the chest, which allows your child to be mobile, and even to leave the hospital. 

A safer bridge to transplant

Newer, fully implantable devices like the HeartMate II and SynCardia TAH can help your child get to heart transplant in the safest, most effective way. They allow your child to be mobile, and this helps with rehabilitation. The lungs and kidneys also work better when a person is free to move around.

Read about how the HeartMate II let Julie play in the snow and Adam go to a Mariners game while waiting for a heart transplant.

Who's on the team?

Dr. Michael McMullan is director of Mechanical Cardiac Support and Extracorporeal Life Support Services . He works closely with Dr. Yuk Law , medical director of our Cardiac Transplant /Heart Failure Service, and Dr. Jonathan Chen , chief of Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery . Providers involved in the VAD program include:

  • Cardiac surgeons
  • Cardiac anesthesiologists
  • Pediatric surgeons
  • Cardiac intensivists  
  • Nurses and respiratory therapists with advanced training
  • Cardiopulmonary perfusionists ( read more about the perfusionists on our Heart Center team)

Research and Advances

Our dedicated team is actively involved in research to understand which devices are best for different situations, and to improve outcomes with VADs. This research helps us refine and improve treatment plans as we seek to better support patients and reduce complications. One special focus for us is how to use VADs appropriately in children with complex congenital heart disease.

  • Seattle Children's was recently selected as one of only two sites on the West Coast for the Pumps for Kids, Infants and Neonates (PumpKIN) trial. It will test a new mechanical heart-assist device for very young children and newborns. This research is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
  • The experts in our Heart Center are actively defining and refining the use of VADs in children. Seattle Children's was one of the original 10 medical centers chosen to take part in a nationwide U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study testing the Berlin Heart. The device won FDA approval in 2011.

Learn More

Read more about how VADs give kids and teens with advanced heart failure the best quality of life.

Contact Us

Contact the Heart Center  at 206-987-2015 for a cardiac referral, a second opinion or more information.