NORTH NAPLES, Fla - A ventricular assist device or VAD is designed for people who are waiting for a heart transplant.
But, as the technology becomes more popular, local first responders are learning VAD patients present a unique challenge. They don't have a pulse.
That's why this week, the North Naples Fire District is hosting a special training session for first responders across Southwest Florida so they can learn exactly how to treat VAD patients.
Robert Abba has had two heart attacks since 2006. "I'm still on the list, waiting for a phone call. It's a tough thing because there aren't enough donors."
In the meantime, Abba has turned to the LVAD, a left ventricular assist device, that helps the heart pump blood through the body and while the LVAD has given him his life back he says, "I have no pulse because it's a constant pressure through the heart with the pump."
EMS personnel say when a patient doesn't have a pulse, their first instinct is to start CPR, but doing chest compressions on an LVAD patient can kill them. In fact, two Floridians have died because first responders did just that.
"Doing chest compressions could dislodge the device," says Jorge Aguilera, Deputy Chief at the North Naples Fire District. "Since it's connected directly to the heart, they can bleed to death internally."
The LVAD isn't just for elderly patients. A young person who is too overweight for a transplant can use the LVAD so they can exercise.
Breast cancer patients with heart conditions, aren't eligible for a heart transplant until they're cancer free for five years. They can now also use the LVAD to keep their blood flowing.
"We are definitely taking what we consider the lead on this," says Aguilera. "We want to be advocates for our patients. They need to be comfortable and know if they come to Collier County, the first responders know what it is."
The training wraps up Thursday at North Naples fire station 45.