Meet JoeAnn Bivins: From heart failure to choir singing record-setter

Implanted at the University of Michigan, Detroit mother is longest surviving patient with a heart assist device

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is helping to set new standards for what patients with heart failure can expect out of life.

JoeAnn Bivins, 68, of Detroit, Mich., has been supported longer than any other patient in the U.S. by a single heart device, according to device maker Thoratec Corporation.

She was implanted with the HeartMate II left ventricular assist device (LVAD) in July 2005 by U-M cardiac surgeon Francis D. Pagani, M.D., Ph.D.

The device helps the left side of the heart circulate blood to the rest of the body.

Now at nearly eight years of support, it allows her to live her life virtually free from the symptoms of heart failure.

"JoeAnn is truly a star patient, and her ability to continue to thrive is a testament to how well LVAD therapy works to alleviate heart failure symptoms and improve quality of life for patients,” says Pagani, director of the University of Michigan’s Adult Heart Transplant Program and director of the Center for Circulatory Support.

For most patients, either a past heart attack or certain conditions such as hypertension, heart muscle diseases, abnormal heart valves, or diabetes has led to heart failure.

Approximately 5.8 million people are living with chronic heart failure in the U.S., many of whom may face a decision similar to Bivins’.

Her heart could not adequately pump blood, leaving her tired and weak. The team at the U-M Center for Circulatory Support talked to her about what LVADs can do.

The devices are currently used in patients with very advanced heart failure as a last resort to help them survive the wait for a heart transplant, or serve as a permanent alternative to heart transplantation.

Because she’s so well-supported with the device, cardiologist D. Brad Dyke, M.D., and Bivins decided she no longer needed to pursue a heart transplant.

The Detroit mother describes her life as being as close to normal as she could imagine.Today, she sings with her church choir, attends bible study, heads the church usher board, and stays active and social with her sisters and son by her side.

She also speaks with patients who are considering LVAD treatment for their heart failure condition, encouraging them to regain the life they once knew as well. The fact that she is now the longest surviving patient with a heart assist device came as a surprise.

“I didn’t even realize my journey was so significant. I was too busy living my life to the fullest,” Bivins says.

“It’s certainly something special to be given a second chance, and it’s even more of a blessing to know that my story can give others with heart failure the same hope,” she says, expressing gratitude for the technology as well as her care team at the U-M.

U-M’s Center for Circulatory Support is a multidisciplinary team of physicians, surgeons and allied health care providers dedicated to the care of patients with advanced heart failure or cardiogenic shock.

Center clinicians and researchers have provided leadership in the clinical investigation of most of the implantable circulatory support devices in use today and to date have implanted more than 500 devices.

HeartMate II is a heart pump created by Thoratec Corporation, a leader in device-based mechanical circulatory support therapies to save, support and restore failing hearts

HeartMate II is the most widely used and extensively studied LVAD in the world and the only continuous-flow LVAD approved by the FDA for both bridge-to-transplantation and destination therapy, or permanent support.

It is implanted alongside the heart and includes accessories that are worn outside the body, including a controller and batteries that last more than ten hours, allowing patients to be active.



University of Michigan Center for Circulatory Support

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