Checking for a pulse is one way to determine if a person who has collapsed is alive. But what if the person is alert and talking but seemingly without the all-important beating vibration in the neck or wrist?

“There’s a chance that patient has a heart-assist device,” says Janice Camuso, RN, of MGH Cardiology, adding the person may not require CPR, despite an emergency situation.

The MGH hosted an educational event Nov. 9 aimed at raising awareness about the growing use of Ventricular Assist Devices and Left Ventricular Assist Devices (VAD or LVAD) in patients who have heart failure. Participants included employees from the Cardiology and Transplant Divisions, MGH Police, Security and Outside Services, Social Service, Emergency Medicine and Palliative Care.

VADs are surgically-implanted pumps connected to the heart that feature a wire called a driveline exiting a person’s abdomen into a controller. They often are referred to as a “bridge” therapy for patients awaiting a heart transplant. VADs may be used for several months, or even several years, to help to pump blood throughout the body.

“It’s possible that an employee from any department – clinical or non-clinical – could come across a situation in which a person with a VAD needs assistance,” says Camuso. “We’re really hoping to make people ‘VAD aware’.”

If the flow of blood is disrupted or the mechanics of the device fail, an alarm on a VAD may sound, signaling an emergency, but it’s vital the device remain connected to its power source at all times.

“I’ve been trained as a first responder but had never seen one of these devices in person until this event,” says John Petty, operations supervisor for MGH Police and Security. “It was really helpful to know that this is something that’s pretty obvious if you’re up close to someone and considering chest compressions.”

When in doubt about starting compressions, Christopher Neumann, MGH Police and Security officer and EMT, says it is important to call 911 and follow the instructions of the dispatcher. And, if the incident occurs in the MGH, the on-call VAD coordinator, who is available 24/7, should be paged.

“We’re grateful to be invited to events like this,” says Neumann. “It helps us accomplish our common mission of helping others.” 

This article was originally published in the 11/02/18 Hotline issue.