What is a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)?

A Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) is a battery-operated, mechanical pumping device that is surgically implanted. It helps maintain the pumping action of a heart that is no longer working effectively on its own. A ventricular assist device (VAD) can be placed in the left, right or both ventricles of your heart, but it is most frequently used in the left ventricle—called an LVAD. An LVAD helps the left ventricle pump blood out to the aorta and to the rest of your body. The procedure to implant an LVAD often requires open-heart surgery and has serious risks. However, it can be lifesaving if you have advanced heart failure.

Cardiac patient meeting with doctor

Lifesaving technology

The LVAD has helped us significantly improve the treatment we can offer to advanced heart failure patients who need a heart transplant or are in heart failure.

UCHealth specialists are the only ones in Colorado that offer LVAD implantation and treatment.

When we would use an LVAD

Patients who need a heart transplant must often wait a long time before a suitable heart becomes available. During this time the patient’s weakened heart may deteriorate further, losing the ability to pump blood throughout the body. An LVAD can help a weak heart function more effectively during the waiting period, called bridge-to-transplant therapy, or it may be used to prolong life and improve symptoms in patients who are not eligible for a heart transplant, called destination therapy. 

Among LVAD therapy benefits:

  • The chance to live longer.
  • An improved ability to socialize with family and friends.
  • Less shortness of breath.
  • The ability to do more without getting as tired.

An LVAD may not be an appropriate treatment if you have blood clotting disorders, irreversible kidney failure, severe liver disease, severe lung disease or infections that cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Visit the LVAD Patient Decision Aid page to learn more.

Get resources to support caregivers of people with heart failure or LVADs.

How an LVAD works

An LVAD has a tube that pulls blood from a weakened left ventricle into a pump. The pump then sends blood into the aorta, the large blood vessel leaving the left ventricle, helping the heart function more effectively. We place the pump in the upper part of the abdomen. Another tube attached to the pump is brought out of the abdominal wall to the outside of the body and attached to the pump’s battery and control system.

LVAD Illustration

Bridge-to-transplant therapy

We can use an LVAD as bridge-to-transplant therapy. If you are waiting for a heart transplant, your heart and medical condition may continue to worsen.  This can lead to hospital admission, increased symptoms and damage to other organs such as the kidneys, liver and lungs. Bridge-to-transplant therapy helps you survive until a donor heart becomes available. You may have a better quality of life and fewer symptoms with an LVAD until your heart transplant, and then we will remove your LVAD.

Learn more about heart transplantation

Destination therapy

If you are not eligible for a heart transplant, you can get an LVAD as destination therapy. You will live with an LVAD for the rest of your life to help prolong it and improve the symptoms of heart failure right now. Your doctors may later reconsider you for a heart transplant, but you should be prepared to live with an LVAD for the rest of your life. 

Your provider will determine if destination therapy is an appropriate treatment option based on your medical condition, symptoms, body size and presence of other medical conditions.

After LVAD implantation

After LVAD surgery, you will be in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU) for one to two weeks. You will be in some pain, but this will be managed with medicine. While you’re in the CTICU, you and your caregivers will start to learn about living with an LVAD and the lifestyle changes you’ll need to make. You will also work with the nurses, therapists and dietitians each day to gain strength and recover from surgery.

As part of your personalized treatment plan, we will schedule follow-up appointments with your treatment team once a week for the first month after your procedure. This will include a physical examination, several tests and an evaluation of the device’s function. After the first month, your follow-up appointments will be less frequent as you continue to recover.

Cardiac rehabilitation program

Your provider may also recommend that you participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program. Cardiac rehabilitation is a personalized program of exercise and education, designed to help you improve your health and recover. Our cardiac rehabilitation staff will help you incorporate healthy lifestyle changes into your life, such as exercise, a heart-healthy diet and stress management.

Depending on your condition, you may be able to enjoy many of your daily life activities, such as returning to work, driving, being sexually active, participating in hobbies and exercising. Your provider will discuss with you what activities are appropriate for you.


Colorado’s only LVAD team

Our team of LVAD specialists are ready to help you live with heart failure and/or prepare for a heart transplant. The LVAD is just one part of a customized treatment plan that we’ll develop with you and your family.


National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): National Library of Medicine. Left Ventricular Assist Devices (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499841/)

Pubmed: National Library of Medicine. Left ventricular assist device therapy in advanced heart failure: patient selection and outcomes (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28198133/)