Extending Life – Brian Kimm


In 2003, Brian Kimm of Blairstown, Iowa, learned that he needed a heart transplant. He faced the same dilemma that confronts many patients on the waiting list: staying alive until a donor heart becomes available.

Fortunately, Kimm benefited from expert care provided by specialists in the University of Iowa Heart and Vascular Center at UI Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.

The Center has received national certification for its Ventricular Assist Device Program to treat patients with advanced heart failure.

A ventricular assist device (VAD) is a mechanical blood pump that takes over the function of a heart ventricle. The device typically is used to treat patients with advanced heart failure who are critically ill and waiting for a heart transplant. More recently, this therapy has been shown to effectively prolong life and improve the quality of life for patients who are ineligible for transplant.

The Ventricular Assist Device Program at the UI Heart and Vascular Center is the only one in Iowa that offers this type of therapy. The program is led by Frances Johnson, MD, UI clinical associate professor of internal medicine, and includes experts in cardiovascular medicine and cardiothoracic surgery.

"Heart failure is a serious condition experienced by more people each year. Transplantation is an option for only a small proportion of them," Johnson said. "Disease-specific certification in the surgery and aftercare of patients with ventricular assist devices gives a wide range of Iowans with advanced heart failure access to this rapidly developing technology.”

Heart surgeons implanted Kimm with a VAD during his two-year wait for a donor heart. Following his transplant, he was able to return to coaching his children’s baseball teams. He credits the physicians, nurses, and staff of UI Hospitals and Clinics for helping him pull through a difficult time.

"They have the best staff in the United States as far as I'm concerned," Kimm said. "They were very caring. They've become like family to us." The team at the UI Heart and Vascular Center are preparing to bring another medical first to Iowa. They will soon become the first health care professionals in Iowa to implant the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH) into a patient.

Weighing 13.5 lbs, the Freedom driver is the first U.S. portable driver designed to power the TAH both inside and outside the hospital. The Freedom driver is intended to allow stable patients to wait for a matching donor heart at home and in their communities.

A pair of onboard batteries powers the driver. The batteries are designed to be charged using a standard electrical outlet or car charger. Patients use a backpack or shoulder bag to carry the driver everywhere they go.

The Total Artificial Heart technology frees patients from the hospital, improves their quality of life while eliminating most in-hospital costs for this portion of their care, while freeing in-hospital resources to serve additional critically ill patients.