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Medical innovations: Impella device saves life of man who trains others how to use it

Mark Kader is a representative for AbioMed, the maker of the Impella device. He never thought he'd need it himself.

CLEVELAND — Forty-one-year-old Mark Kader is a husband, father of five, registered nurse, and associate clinical consultant for Abiomed, a medical device company.

He's passionate about educating medical staff how to use the Impella device, because as a cardiac care nurse for 15 years at University Hospitals, he witnessed how many lives the device saved.

"And if I wanted to work for a device company, I'd like to work for a company that helped other people," Mark added in explaining why he took the job with Abiomed.

So, what is the Impella?

"It's been described as a straw with a motor," Kader says. "It literally just takes blood from one chamber of the heart, the left ventricle, and then ejects it out to the rest of the body when the heart isn't able to do it on its own."

The device enters the femoral artery, like a stent. It's done in the catheterization lab and then removed when the heart can pump on its own.

Credit: Abiomed
Impella device

"It's been a game changer, because 50% of patients who have cardiogenic shock die," Dr. Steven Filby, interventional cardiologist and director of the cardiac catheterization lab at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, said. "This is a very sobering statistic, and that's been despite advances in medications, despite advances in cardiac interventional therapy.

"Recently, it's been demonstrated that a strategy that incorporates the use of the Impella device in treatment of cardiogenic shock has had an incremental improvement in survival by 20%, so that's a real, I mean, that's been a very impactful therapy."

Cardiogenic shock means the heart is failing to pump, and the Impella device helps the heart pump. But Kader didn't know it would be a game changer for him, too.  

"I couldn't fully endorse a product without using it myself," Mark laughed.

He's not kidding: Last August, Mark — who has no family history of heart disease — collapsed in his bathroom, where his wife found him and called 911. They rushed him to UH Ahuja Medical Center, where many members of the team he worked with for 15 years were waiting.

"It was a ventricular arrhythmia, but not like the normal attack," Mark explained. "They tried to shock me and back into a normal rhythm, but it wouldn't go. But it was like a slower rhythm, so probably around, like, 20 beats per minute."

Filby knew the Impella device was needed, but the irony wasn't lost on the team. 

"The fact that he is a representative for this company and then was the direct recipient of the device that saved his life? I mean, it really is incredibly ironic," Filby admitted. "But I'd say that his age and the fact that he had five children was not lost on us [either]. It added, certainly, a dimension of pressure, not only knowing Mark personally, but knowing that he had so much to live for, so much more to give."

The Impella helped pump Mark's heart for two and half days. He spent a week and a half in the hospital and now has a defibrillator and pacemaker implanted in his chest. His official diagnosis? Idiopathic arrhythmia, but they still don’t know why it happened. The experience makes his new career more important.

"It just makes me believe in what I'm doing more," he said. "That it's effective, that it works, that it can change lives and save lives."

The Impella can be used for a variety of reasons, including:

  • When the heart isn't pumping well
  • Heart attack
  • Viral myocarditis or infection around the heart
  • After cardiac surgery to help the heart recover
  • Peripartum cardiomyopathy for pregnant women at risk of heart failure

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