May 8, 2014

VHVI educates airport screeners on heart devices

Thanks to advances in technology, heart patients with ventricular assist devices (VADs) are able to travel with greater frequency.

Thanks to advances in technology, heart patients with ventricular assist devices (VADs) are able to travel with greater frequency.

Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute personnel are helping educate security screeners at Nashville International Airport about the special needs of travelers with ventricular assist devices like the one pictured here.

However, there are many pieces of equipment that comprise a VAD, and getting through airport security can often require a bit of extra planning, time and understanding on the part of airport personnel.

Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute VAD program coordinator Jennifer Dawson, and Matt Hackney, RN, recently gave a presentation to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents, airport police, first responders and canine unit handlers at the Nashville International Airport to teach them about the special needs of travelers with VADs.

A patient who wears a VAD is in heart failure, and the battery-powered mechanical assist device helps the heart pump blood through the body. Internally, there is a pump that keeps the heart beating, an outflow cannula and a driveline. Externally, there is a driveline that exits the abdominal area, a controller that is worn around the waist or over the shoulder and two battery power sources.

“A lot of patients wear vests to hold two batteries, so it kind of looks like holsters for weapons. The controller sits around their waist in a black fanny pack. They also have a ‘go gear’ backpack for emergency back-up equipment that stays with them 24-7,” Dawson said.

The ‘go gear’ bag with a backup controller and batteries must remain with the patient at all times. Other external accessories are packed in a suitcase and checked through security.

Patients carry a notification letter for TSA and other airport staff and cannot take off the controller to be screened and cannot go through the electronic security machines.

Vanderbilt Heart patient Dan Powell has traveled quite a bit since receiving his first VAD more than two years ago and has had only one minor issue at the airport.

“On one occasion, my wife grabbed the bag of spare parts and got in a different security line and was questioned about what the parts were. We learned a lesson to let me carry the spare parts,” he said. “The biggest issue with me traveling is getting ready to go, not actually going.”

Dawson shared all of this information with airport personnel who were grateful for the presentation. In addition, she talked with first responders and police about how to handle a medical emergency in a VAD patient.

VAD patients don’t have a detectable pulse because the implanted VAD is a continuous flow pump. If they pass out, first responders automatically think to do chest compressions, but that’s not necessarily what needs to be done, Dawson said.

“We teach them to hover over the chest and listen for the pump and to check before they cut clothes so they don’t cut the drive line that turns the pump off. There is no way to repair a cut drive line without surgery.

“They were all very receptive and couldn’t believe they hadn’t had this instruction before.”