Bethlehem Woman Celebrates Valentine’s Day With Family Thanks to New Heart Pump

Dolores and Rich Schumann of Bethlehem, Pa.
Dolores Schumann, of Bethlehem, Pa., and her husband, Rich, recently celebrated their 53rd anniversary. Today, they celebrated Dolores’ recent life-saving heart surgery.

It’s tradition on Valentine’s Day to tell people closest to you that you love them. Today, Dolores Schumann of Bethlehem, Pa., can do that. The 74-year-old wife, mother and grandmother just had life-saving heart surgery at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)-Cedar Crest. She is the first patient in the region to receive a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

“I’m feeling great. I am excited to live and spend time with my family,” says Schumann, who attended a news conference earlier today. Her husband of 53 years, Rich, and their three daughters, Dolores, Donna and Denise, stood by her side.

“I lost a son to a heart condition when he was just 16,” Schumann says. “I couldn’t save him, but by having this surgery, I can save myself. That makes me happy.”

Schumann was diagnosed in 2003 with heart failure caused by an abnormal heart muscle (inherited cardiomyopathy).  Her cardiologist, Deborah Sundlof, DO, says Schumann exhausted all other treatment options. “Without LVAD, she would not have been able to survive much longer,” Sundlof says.

Left ventricular assist device (LVAD)
This is a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

LVAD is a small mechanical pump that circulates blood for hearts that can’t perform this life-supporting function. The surgically implanted, battery-operated pump measures 1.7 by 8.1 inches and weighs 9.9 ounces. It is sutured to the heart and takes over the pumping action for a heart muscle that’s too weak to distribute blood to the brain and other vital organs.

Heart surgeons Timothy Misselbeck, MD; Sanjay Mehta, MD; and Gary Szydlowski, MD, with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), performed the four-hour LVAD surgical procedure on Schumann. They connected one end of a tube to the bottom of her pumping chamber (left ventricle) and the other end to her aorta. The pump, which sits in the middle, is placed beneath the patient’s skin, and the battery and controller are contained in a “vest” worn by the patient. The device isn’t an artificial heart, nor does it replace the patient’s heart.

Schumann will have the pump for the rest of her life. She isn’t a candidate for a heart transplant, but was an excellent candidate for LVAD because she has a supportive family, and aside from her heart, is in relatively good physical condition. She had the surgery Feb. 5, 2013, and will be ready to leave the hospital in just a couple days, after she and her family have mastered how to use the controller and change the batteries.

On this Valentine’s Day, she and her husband, who have been together since high school, look forward to getting out and doing things together again. “She won’t get fatigued,” Rich Schumann says. “And she’ll probably want to go to the mall.”

LVAD is the latest innovation in LVHN’s leading-edge heart program. Last spring, the health network opened the region’s first hybrid operating room and was the first regional hospital to offer TAVR, transcatheter aortic valve replacement. LVHN’s heart program is one of Pennsylvania’s largest, completing nearly 1,000 surgeries a year, and it’s recognized as having the best outcomes in Pa., according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

See media coverage by The Morning Call and WFMZ-TV.