Jefferson Health

Living with a VAD

The main purpose of a ventricular assist device (VAD) is to improve both the length and quality of life for a patient with severe heart failure. In general, patients with end-stage heart failure live longer and better lives with a VAD.

After recovering from a VAD insertion, the average patient is able to return to a near-normal life. Going back to work or school, enjoying pastime activities and – with appropriate planning – travel are also possible.

Lifestyle Changes

If you undergo implantation of a VAD, blood thinners are required to minimize the risk of clot formation and complications. This usually consists of at least two blood thinners. Your physicians will work to tailor the blood thinning to your specific needs.  

All devices require the patient to wear external pieces of equipment, which include a small computer – referred to as a controller – attached to the driveline (a wired attached to the pump that exits the body through skin) and batteries. The patient must always be attached to their controller and a source of power (batteries or wall power), or the pump will stop.

Additional lifestyle limitations include:

  • Patients must carry back-up equipment at all times.
  • Batteries must always be charged.
  • Because of the risk of infections with bathing or showering, sponge baths are recommended.
  • Do not participate in any activity with a high chance of falling (skating, cycling, skiing) because falls can damage the pump or driveline, or cause fatal bleeding due to blood thinners.
  • Those wishing to operate a motor vehicle must review the policy with the medical team, and be aware that it usually takes six months before the average patient is ready to resume driving. Some people may never meet the criteria.
  • Sexual activity may resume after recovery, but special attention must be given to avoid damage to the driveline.
  • Those wishing to travel outside the immediate area must provide advance notice so that a VAD center at the destination can be designated in case of emergency. If a VAD patient is on the transplant list, the status may need to be changed while traveling outside the Philadelphia region.