Female Artificial Heart Patient, 28, Boxes Her Way to Health: Patient Celebrates New Heart and New Life On Valentine's Day

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At age 20, Vanessa Cirillo suffered a heart attack caused by a virus. She recovered and lived a healthy life until June 2007, when her heart condition became critical. Her heart had enlarged several times its normal size (cardiomyopathy). It was no longer pumping enough blood to sustain her body. She needed a heart transplant but no donor heart was available. To save her life, she was flown from a Las Vegas hospital to University Medical Center (UMC) in Tucson, Ariz.

The boxing is so much fun

    On Aug. 10, 2007, doctors removed Vanessa's dying heart and implanted the CardioWest(TM) temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH-t) as a bridge to human heart transplant.

"Vanessa is only about 5'4, 117 pounds, so we didn't think the CardioWest artificial heart was going to fit," explained UMC surgeon Dr. Jack Copeland. "However, because of her enlarged heart, there was enough space to implant the CardioWest. This saved her life because she suffered an unrelated intestinal infection. If she had been on a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) or any other device, the infection would have killed her."

Boxing Her Way To Health

With the help of the artificial heart, Vanessa fought through her infection and recovered. Once stabilized, Vanessa began to hit the gym with UMC staff. Physical therapist Robert Bailey challenged her with an increasingly rigorous work-out schedule, which included boxing.

"The boxing is so much fun," said Vanessa while she was on the artificial heart. "I've never done it before. It's a very good work out and it's just invigorating. You're totally outside of what's going on with you physically, in the sense of having the artificial heart. It was amazing to me, when I first did it. I couldn't believe that I actually was boxing."

On Nov. 24, 2007, after 106 days on the CardioWest artificial heart, Vanessa received her donor heart. Eleven days later she was discharged. Today, Vanessa is enjoying life with her mom, friends and family. She recently moved into her own Tucson apartment and continues to box and work out as part of her heart transplant rehabilitation. Next fall she hopes to start pursuing a degree in nutrition at the University of Arizona.

Watch footage of Vanessa boxing here.

February Heart Month - Go Red for Women: Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. Perceived as a disease that predominantly affects men, the American Heart Association is trying to increase heart disease awareness among women. Check out the Go Red for Women movement at: http://www.goredforwomen.org/

Originally designed as a permanent replacement heart, the CardioWest artificial heart is currently approved as a bridge to human heart transplant for patients dying from end stage biventricular failure. These patients are often days, if not hours from death. Their survival depends on receiving a matching donor heart, or a CardioWest artificial heart as a bridge to transplant.

In the 10-year pivotal clinical study of the CardioWest artificial heart (New England Journal of Medicine 2004; 351: 859-867), 79 percent of patients receiving the TAH-t survived to transplant. This is the highest bridge to transplant rate for any heart device in the world.

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Janelle Drumwright
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