Heart disease can leave a patient tied to a bed or a hospital room waiting on life, instead of living it. However, medical advances are giving people with heart disease a chance to live more freely - but many don't know help is available.
There were over 4,000 heart transplants last year, the 11th consecutive year those numbers set a new record, and yet there are over 3,000 people waiting for a heart transplant.
Zuleyma Santos had just given birth to her second child three years ago when she learned she had pregnancy-induced heart failure. Too weak to hold her child, she eventually left the hospital to be home with her children and husband, who had terminal cancer.
"As soon as I came back, he took care of both us, my daughter and myself, for the next two weeks and then he had to start chemo treatments again," Zuleyma said through tears.
Zuleyma's body produces too many antibodies for her to be immediately eligible for a heart transplant, but doctors at Keck Medicine of USC felt she was an excellent candidate for a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD. It's an implanted heart pump that improves survival and quality of life.
"The devices themselves have gotten smaller and we understand how to manage them better, so people can have them and live normal lives, can go back to work, can go back to most normal activities," explained Zuleyma's doctor, Eugene DePasquale, the Medical Director of the Heart Failure, Heart Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support Program at the University of Southern California.
"I think this is a really good option if anybody wants to get out there and be the way that you were before heart disease. I believe that this is a chance, Zuleyma said.
The HeartMate 3 received FDA approval in 2018. It's a continuous-flow pump with reduced complications over its predecessors. It's also 60% smaller and weighs only 14 ounces. But many heart patients are still unaware of this newer technology.
"A lot of patients may die while waiting for a heart and this is something that we can say, 'you know what? We are going to schedule this for next Tuesday, you're going to get the pump, you're going to get stronger, you're going to go home, you're going to recover, you're going to live your life and then you're going to come back when we have a donor heart for you.'," DePasquale said.
While the pump is implanted, its power is provided by batteries Zuleyma conceals in her purse or a backpack. She feels it is a small price to pay considering what she would have faced without her LVAD.
"I'll take it any day as long as I can run with my kids, be with my kids, drop them off, pick them up. It's definitely a life-saving machine for me."