Flora Floyd suffered a heart attack in 1997. She was diagnosed with severe cardiomyopathy, or a weakened heart muscle. Despite medical attention, she suffered from constant shortness of breath, her activity level declined and her quality of life was rapidly disappearing. On Jan. 13, 2010, Floyd made history as the first person in the United States to be implanted with the Levacor Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) manufactured by Salt Lake-based WorldHeart Inc. Floyd’s surgery was successful. She now walks and expects to go home soon to await a heart transplant.
There are currently 2,000 heart transplants performed nationwide annually, while the estimated need is between 50,000 to 100,000. “There is a big difference in the supply of donor hearts and the number that are needed for transplantation. That is where we come in,” says Pratap Khanwilkar, co-founder and vice president of rotary systems and business development for WorldHeart. Levacor is a heart pump that utilizes a magnetically-levitated rotating disk to circulate blood. Khanwilkar explains that advantages to the pump include increased safety due to enhanced blood compatibility and multi-year reliability, a wide range of applicability in patient sizes and flow rates, and improved quality of life because of imperceptible noise and vibration.
“We try to help people with failing heart muscles,” he says, adding that chronic heart failure is a slow rate of decline in heart-pumping ability, where the heart pumps increasingly less blood to meet the body’s needs. If the heart can’t pump enough blood, it affects other organs, such as the liver and kidneys. “This severely curtails a person’s ability to be mobile and active,” he explains.
Along with contributing to the heart health of many people, WorldHeart also contributes to Utah’s business community. “We founded a company called MedQuest in 1993, as a spinoff of the University of Utah. We grew it locally until we were ready to start clinical trials,” Khanwilkar says. “We sold the company to a public company called WorldHeart in 2005. Just last year, WorldHeart moved its headquarters from Oakland, California to Salt Lake City. From a business standpoint, we formed this company in 1993 with $5,000. Now it’s a publicly traded, growing company.”
A Valve for Life
A long distance runner with seven marathons to his name, Tom Price knew he had a heart murmur. He kept running until aortic valve disease stopped him in his tracks. In two months, Price went from running a half-marathon to losing his breath before completing one mile.
Sarah Huoh, director of global communications at Mivale-based Edwards Lifesciences, explains that when a heart valve is diseased or defective, it may not open or close properly and can interfere with blood flow. “Heart valve repair or replacement can alleviate symptoms, prolong a person’s life span and improve health and quality of life, she says.
Doctors replaced Price’s aortic valve with a valve from Edwards Lifesciences. The first step in valve replacement is to remove the diseased valve, then implant a prosthetic valve in its place. Less than two years after surgery, Price ran a full marathon. “Two weeks ago, he completed the Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge, running the half marathon on Saturday morning, and then the full marathon on Sunday morning—a total of 39.3 miles in 24 hours,” says Huoh.
Edwards Lifesciences became incorporated in Utah as Research Medical Industries Corporation on May 27, 1968. It became Edwards Lifesciences Research Medical, Inc. in 2000 and is a part of the Cardiac Surgery Systems division of Edwards Lifesciences.
Edwards is named for Miles “Lowell” Edwards who became fascinated with the heart in his teens, when he suffered through two bouts of rheumatic fever, a disease which can cause heart damage by scarring heart valves, Huoh explains.
In 1958, Edwards was a retired engineer with 63 patents when he set out to build the first artificial heart. His background in hydraulics and fuel pump operations contributed to his belief that the heart could be mechanized. Dr. Albert Starr, a young surgeon, encouraged Edwards to first focus on developing an artificial heart valve. After two years, the first Starr-Edwards mitral valve was successfully placed in a patient.
More than 50 years later, Edwards Lifesciences has annual revenues exceeding $1 billion and more than 6,300 employees who work together to fight cardiovascular disease.
“Edwards treats advanced cardiovascular disease with its heart valve therapies and critical care and vascular technologies, which are sold in approximately 100 countries,” says Huoh. Products produced in Utah and sold worldwide include the company’s cannula and embolic protection devices utilized by cardiac surgeons during open-heart surgery. Currently, about 200 employees work at the Midvale facility.
Anticipating future growth, Edwards Lifesciences will transfer manufacturing from its existing Midvale facility to a new Draper, Utah facility in the first half of 2010.
Keep It Ticking
10 Heart-healthy Steps
*Exercise 30 minutes a day most days.
*Eat 5 daily servings of fruit and vegetables.
*Eat 6 daily servings of grain products.
*Eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day.
*Maintain cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dl.
*Achieve a body mass index of less than 25 KG/m2.
*Keep a blood pressure level of less than 120/80 mmHg.
*Establish a triglyceride level of less than 150 mg/dL.
*Maintain a waist circumference of 40 inches or less for men, 35 inches for women.
*Balance the number of calories you eat with the number you use each day. To find that number, multiply your weight in pounds by 15 calories, if you’re active and of normal weight; 12 calories, if you’re inactive and of normal weight; 15 calories, if you’re active and obese; 13 calories, if you’re inactive and obese.