Pioneering heart device saving lives

Completing a half marathon is a challenge for many but especially for one Kiwi who did it with a borrowed heart.

Life was not looking too good for me. One of the doctors said it was one of the worst hearts . . . they’d seen in a while, so it was pretty bad.

Story by Lauren Hendricksen, Newshub

It’s all thanks to a groundbreaking piece of technology, which is giving people a second chance at life.

At first glance, Jack Church is young, fit and healthy. He’s a physical training instructor for the Royal New Zealand Navy, and sport has always been a massive part of his life.

That was until last year when his world was flipped upside down when he was diagnosed with advanced heart failure at the age of 26.

“A heart normally has an ejection rate of 60 percent – mine was ejecting at five percent, so it was pretty low,” Church told Newshub.

It was so bad that he wasn’t well enough for a heart transplant. But despite his life quite literally being on the line, Church remained positive.

“I was looking straight away for a solution, rather than dwelling on the problem,” he said.

That solution was a Ventricular Assist Device – otherwise known as a VAD.

The whole device sits inside the chest and is connected to the heart. It can pump up to 10 litres of blood, per minute.

NZ Heart and Lung Transplantation surgical director Dr Amul Sibal said it’s not only life-changing but life-saving.

“[Recipients] get better, they get fitter, they are nutritionally better, moods are better,” Dr Sibal told Newshub.

The impact of the device has been so profound, funding for them has been increased – meaning more Kiwis can benefit.

“They’ve been shown to help the rest of the body get better and therefore they become eligible for heart transplantation,” Dr Sibal told Newshub.

“There is a shortage of donor hearts in the world, and some patients will never get a transplant.”

“That’s where a VAD is an incredible, life-saving option for those diagnosed with heart failure. It provides the much-needed bridge to keep patients fit enough.”

In October last year, after using the VAD, Church became well enough to receive that heart transplant.

Only seven months after his operation, with the support of his mates, he ran the Hawke’s Bay half marathon.

“It was an achievement, a very good one – it felt good,” Church said.

A remarkable feat, for someone who was knocking on death’s door, but there is no stopping Church – who is already looking for his next challenge.

Story/video published by Newshub on 9 November 2022. Watch the video news story here.