February 20, 2004

Longest-living LVAD patient dies at 51

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Dr. Henry W. Foster Jr.

Longest-living LVAD patient dies at 51

Brenda Harris, the longest-living Novacor LVAD patient at the time of her death, was buried Wednesday. Ms. Harris, 51, died at her home on Saturday.

She had an inherited heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, which caused the stretching and weakening of her heart cavity. After a search for a suitable heart donor was not successful in July 2000, she underwent surgery to implant the left ventricular assist device. The electronically powered device, weighing in at nearly 15 pounds, makes a loud, rhythmic sound.

After her initial implant, Ms. Harris was hospitalized twice in 2001. First after a nearly fatal car accident. Again, three months after her discharge, she was struck by a car, which damaged her LVAD. It was replaced, and she recovered.

But she could not come back from a recent drug-resistant infection, the most common cause of death in LVAD patients. The infection site is typically found at the port connecting the implanted device to the external power source. The nation’s longest-surviving LVAD patient had the device for four years prior to transplant. Harris survived three years and 7 months.

“Brenda was an incredible woman,” said Stacy Davis. “She always had a very positive outlook. She and her family were eager to work with us to not only improve her quality of life but define what was possible in the future for others. “She was a trailblazer.”

Currently Vanderbilt has three LVAD patients — two are destination therapy who are unable to receive transplants and one is a bridge to transplant.