Medical Marvels: LVAD a Lifesaver for Patient Near Death

Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Medical Marvels: LVAD Proves a Lifesaver
Medical Marvels: LVAD Proves a Lifesaver

NEW YORK -- Harold E. Doley, Jr. had just weeks to live by the time he decided to get a life-saving procedure at NewYork- Presbyterian. He is fifty-year member of the New York Stock Exchange who received ambassadorial rank from President Ronald Reagan during diplomatic service in Africa.

Doley was suffering severe shortness of breath and bloating in his extremities.

"I ended up here at NewYork-Presbyterian," Doley said. "I was referred to Dr. Paolo Colombo specifically by at least three physicians."

Dr. Colombo is a cardiologist who specializes in treating patients with heart failure and is the Medical Director, Mechanical Circulatory Support Program, Division of Cardiology, NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

"The ambassador was admitted to the hospital, extremely sick and in shock," Dr. Colombo said. "There was not enough blood going into the circulation into his body and he had to be supported with another mechanical tool, a balloon pump, to survive. He had days or a couple of weeks to live. Very early on I suggested for him the LVAD (left ventricular assist device) as a way to improve his quality of life and to live longer."

An LVAD is a pump that is surgically implanted just below the heart. It's connected to the left side of the heart and from there to the ascending aorta to feed the entire body. The pump has a cable that passes through the skin and is connected to a controller that operates the pump. The LVAD device is powered by portable batteries that last approximately 12 hours per charge.

"The condition of the ambassador was very advanced. He didn't respond to treatment of pills anymore," Dr. Colombo said. "This is a device that will support the heart and the body for the rest of a patient's life. The LVAD is an immediate option for people on the heart transplant list who cannot wait until an organ becomes available or, as in the case of Ambassador Doley, for those who are not candidates for transplant because of old age or other medical problems."

Despite his dire diagnosis, Doley was skeptical of the procedure until Dr. Colombo offered a sobering analogy. "I knew that he was fond of history," Dr. Colombo said, "and I said, look Ambassador, this device for you is like the last helicopter on the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Either you take it or you know what's going to happen."

"I got the message," Doley admitted. I said, "When do we do it?"

Doley's surgery went well, and he has now adjusted to living life with the LVAD. "I wouldn't be here if I had not agreed to have the LVAD procedure," Doley said. "You're going to have to carry batteries. You're going to need to change your batteries every 12 hours. If that's the price I have to pay for life, give me life. Give me the batteries. Give me some of the minor inconveniences."

Doley credits the doctors and nurses at NewYork-Presbyterian for saving his life. "Doctor Colombo is an extraordinary man. I cannot begin to express the heartfelt love that I have for the team that took care of me, the team that brought me back to life."