MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — 15 years after heart failure started Ken Ritchey on a path of constant hospitalizations, he’s had his best prognosis yet.

“It’s hard to do things when you can’t breathe,” Ritchey said. “So, hopefully, I’ll continue down the path and lead a more active life.”

The LaVale, Maryland native received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) during a long operation last month at the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute that has the potential to increase his chances of living exponentially. It was the first operation of it’s kind in West Virginia, providing Ritchey with what is essentially a much more technologically advanced, portable, and long-lasting version of the Jarvik Artificial Heart.

Alex Wiederspiel/Metronews

An artistic rendering of the LVAD.

“When we saw this gentleman, there was really no other option to help him besides an artificial heart pump,” Dr. Vinay Badhwar, the executive chair of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, said Wednesday.

Dr. George Sokos, the medical director of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute’s Advanced Heart Failure Program, said Ritchey was in an advanced state of heart failure, with just a 10 percent chance of surviving two more years.

“In general, when heart failure becomes this advanced, patients continue to decline over time,” he said. “In the hospital multiple times; typically, when they hit the the stage Mr. Ritchey was in, they are in and out of the hospital seems like every week.”

Dr. Badhwar said the LVAD assists with critical functions of the heart, making it the last remaining life-saving option he had.

“The pump brings blood from the patient’s left ventricle to the major pumping chamber, the aorta, which is the main aspect of all the circulation in the body,” he said.

The operation itself isn’t unheard of, but is highly uncommon outside of very large cities. Heart failure is the most common reason for heart-related hospital admission and readmission in West Virginia.

“Each day is getting a lot better breathing wise,” Ritchey said. “I was on oxygen prior to receiving my LVAD, and since I’ve been home I haven’t used it at all. That is a great improvement there.”

Dr. Badhwar said it’s part of WVU Medicine’s ongoing mission to end the exportation of West Virginians’ healthcare to other states.

“We’re pleased to let you know that now that is no longer necessary,” he said. “All patients in our state, that otherwise would leave, can be cared for right here.”

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