Victor Batts and Family
By the time Victor Batts came to the University of Maryland Medical Center, he was running out of options: the 51-year old Randallstown man was gravely ill as a result of advanced heart failure. As his wife described it, “He was on death’s door. The medicines and the defibrillator weren’t working anymore. His organs had just completely failed him,” said Valerie Batts.
And Batts remembers: “I was feeling terrible, I couldn’t breathe. I weighed about 280 pounds, but 60 to 70 pounds of that weight was fluid because my kidneys weren’t working. I had lost hope.”
But then UM Medical Center heart experts offered Batts one last option: a heart pump that would be implanted in his body — making him the first to receive this type of pump as a permanent treatment for heart failure.
He would receive this treatment as part of the first multi-center study to compare two different heart pumps as destination (permanent) therapy for patients not eligible for a heart transplant. This new 40-center study, known as the RELIANT trial, compares the Novacor Left Ventricular Assist System (LVAS) with the HeartMate pump for use as destination therapy.
In July 2004, UM Medical Center cardiac surgeons implanted the Novacor heart pump in Batts, who was the first patient in the study. He went home with his new pump on September 9, 2004.
Failing Health and New Hope
Back in 1998, Batts, a retired Bethlehem steel worker, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He was taking medicines but eventually they stopped working.
His condition had a major impact on his life. “It hindered everything that I had to do. My life had changed dramatically because I wasn’t able to do the things physically that a normal person was able to do,” said Batts.
Even something as simple as walking up and down the stairs was no longer an option for him, according to one of his daughters.
“The hardest part for me was actually seeing him so sick,” said Simone Batts, one of Victor’s daughters. “He wasn’t able to go out and enjoy life like before. He’s always been a person who’s been on the go, and to see him immobile around the house for days at a time was hard. At that point you really knew that he needed something more.”
In January 2004 he was admitted to a local hospital. At the time Batts’ heart was functioning at less than 10 percent, causing him to pass out frequently. There, doctors inserted a pacemaker and a defibrillator. But within six months, the defibrillator wasn’t working properly.
“Once the heart disease kicks in it causes the other organs to break down — the kidneys, the liver. And they (the local hospital) told us a couple of years ago that we needed to come to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) because it’s one of the only hospitals in this region that may have other treatments for the heart disease,” explained Mrs. Batts.
But Batts did not come right away. “When you have a person who can walk and talk a little bit you feel as though it’s really not that bad,” said Mrs. Batts. “It wasn’t until the last few weeks when he couldn’t walk or talk or really take care of himself that we decided that we needed to get down to UMMC.”
Once Victor and his wife came to the Medical Center they met with cardiologist Stephen S. Gottlieb, M.D., director of heart failure and cardiac transplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center and professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who told them about the heart pump study. Doctors also told Batts that his window of opportunity for the transplant had come and gone because of the extensive damage to his kidneys and liver.
Mrs. Batts admits that she was scared, but felt they had no other choice.
“This was our only hope; our only chance. It’s an experimental study, but if we didn’t do it he wouldn’t be here right now,” she said. “To be totally honest, when he came to the Medical Center in July, I never thought that we would be standing here talking to him. This pump has totally saved his life. “
Now that he has the pump, Batts’ health has improved considerably, and the pump has even helped to strengthen his damaged organs.
“The pump is starting to revive his organs. He’s not retaining any fluids, so his kidneys are starting to come back to life,” said Mrs. Batts.
Dr. Gottlieb feels that heart pumps will play an important role in the treatment of heart failure: “I personally think that in the long run that we’re going to see lots of devices placed in people with heart failure,” he said. “As the devices become more reliable we can put them in more people, people who may not be quite as sick as Mr. Batts was. I would also like to say that patients should come to their doctors and start talking about this.”
Bartley P. Griffith, M.D., chief of Cardiac Surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center and professor of surgery and head of the Division of Cardiac Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is also optimistic about the future of the heart pump. “Our experience with this pump has been very good and we’re very thrilled to be basically at the crest of this exciting era of heart failure treatment.” He adds, “The field of heart pump development is not static. New ideas and new equipment continue to present a variety of opportunities to impact heart failure.”
A Drastic Difference
Batts has seen a dramatic difference in his life since he received the new pump.
“I feel 60 to 80 percent better than when I first came here. I’ve seen a lot of changes. I’m not out of breath, I’m not panting, I’m not walking and stopping. All of those things were factors I had to deal with on a daily basis,” he said. “I’ve been able to walk distances that I haven’t walked in three years. I look at that and I see an astronomical change.”
But most importantly says Batts, “I’ve been able to laugh and smile again. I had lost all hope and I concentrated on just my illness that I couldn’t focus in on the things going on around me. So I just feel a whole lot better all the way around: spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.”
His wife also sees a big difference. “He couldn’t even talk before; the depression had set in so badly. He didn’t want to see or talk to anybody,” said Mrs. Batts. “Now he wants the whole world to see him.”
Batts also says that both the UM Heart Center staff and his family have played an important part of his recovery.
“The staff was excellent,” he said. “I didn’t think that I would meet so many great people. Anything that I needed they took care of. Through their expertise they guided me to get to where I’m at now.”
He also hopes that his participation in the study can ultimately help others facing a similar situation.
“The fact that I can help somebody is really great. If they need me to talk to someone or play a part in somebody’s recovery, I’ll do it,” said Batts. “I think this is just the beginning of what the future’s going to bring. And I know they (others who participate in study) are going to need support because I needed it and all the doctors were there to give it to me. There were so many people that played a part in this that I can’t thank them all.”
By Michelle W. Murray