2013-07-19 / Community

Far Rockaway Man Heartened By New Tech

By Katie McFadden

Sherman Covington recovers after receiving an LVAD device at Mount Sinai, with the help of Dr. Sean Pinney. Sherman Covington recovers after receiving an LVAD device at Mount Sinai, with the help of Dr. Sean Pinney. Far Rockaway resident, Sherman Covington, has received some relief as he awaits a heart transplant. Sherman became the first advanced heart failure patient in New York City and at Mount Sinai Medical Center to receive a newly approved controller with his left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

The 44-year-old father of two was suffering daily from advanced heart failure and its debilitating symptoms which had made it hard for him to breathe, walk and keep up with his 11 and 12- year-old sons. Sherman and his family also took another hit when they lost their home and belongings due to Hurricane Sandy. He is currently displaced and living with a cousin.

Sherman was recently hospitalized due to this condition and was put under the care of the Advanced Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplantation Program at Mount Sinai Hospital. Sherman is on a long waiting list for a heart transplant, but he was given some relief as he had a HeartMate II left ventricular assist device surgically implanted by cardiothoracic surgeons at the hospital in June. The device keeps his heart pumping and helps to alleviate some of his symptoms as he waits for the transplant.

“Pumps are very effective in both improving quality of life and improving survival,” said Sean P. Pinney, MD, Director of the Advanced Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplantation Program at The Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Sherman’s device comes with a newly FDA approved HeartMate II Pocket Controller, which powers his heart to pump. He was the first in the city to receive this new technology. The new small, light-weight external controller is about the size of a cell phone and can fit in a patient’s front pocket.

“I’m very happy,” Covington said. “It’s easy to use.” He says that he’s feeling “pretty good” since he received the LVAD and pocket controller. “I can walk. I can do many things and I’m able to breathe better,” he said.

Pinney calls the new pocket-controller “an improvement from the previous controller. It has built-in safety features that weren’t on the old controller.” Among some of the features is a backup battery within the controller, which keeps the device running in the event of it being disconnected accidentally. It is smaller than the previous controller and lightweight, which makes it more comfortable for patients to wear. It also has a physical display that lets doctors and patients know that the device is on and working and it can provide a real-time printout of how much power the device is using and how much blood is circulating. “It shows a much clearer example of what the device is providing,” Pinney said.

About 50 LVADs are implanted every year at Mount Sinai. Sherman was the first to receive the new controller for the device as it was just approved. Two more patients have received the new technology since Sherman.

The LVAD has been proven to extend the life of a patient by up to eight years as they wait for a transplant. However the device cannot compare to an actual transplant, and according to Pinney, donors are hard to come by. “As good as the devices are, the best treatment we have is heart transplants,” he said. “Unfortunately there are simply too many people waiting for hearts and not enough donors.”

Pinney said that there are 7,000 people on a waiting list for a heart transplant across the country and only 2,200 transplants are performed each year. The average wait time for a transplant is six to 18 months.

Pinney says there are several reasons for why there aren’t enough donors. He points out the fact that many people register to be a donor while getting a license at the DMV, but in New York City, many people don’t drive a car, so they don’t have the opportunity to sign up. Pinney also says that the process to become a donor is complicated and there are some misconceptions about what it means to be a donor.

Those interested in becoming a donor can check out the New York Organ Donor Network website, DonatelifeNY.org to find out more information or to register.

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