Country music star Randy Travis had a device implanted in his chest that helps his heart pump – a sign he is “extraordinarily ill” and may eventually need a heart transplant, a top cardiologist tells Newsmax Health.
Travis, 54, is suffering from congestive heart failure caused by viral cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart after it is attacked by a virus.
UPDATE: Travis suffered stroke Wednesday night and underwent surgery to relieve pressure in his brain, his publicist said.
“Quite obviously, doctors are doing everything they can for Randy Travis,” said Harvey Kramer, M.D., senior physician and director of cardiovascular disease prevention at Danbury (Conn.) Hospital. “They don’t put in this device unless you are extraordinarily ill. They just don’t do it.”
Doctors implanted what is known as a LVAD, or left ventricular assist device, into Travis’ chest on Monday. The device, which takes over part of the heart’s function, is the same type as one given to Dick Cheney before he underwent a heart transplant last year.
These high-tech devices, powered by battery packs worn outside the body, can save heart patients who are at “death’s door,” said Dr. Kramer. However, their long-term use carries potentially life-threatening complications from infection and stroke, he said.
Travis suffers from a condition in which the heart becomes too stretched and weakened to pump blood effectively throughout the body, said Dr. Kramer, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Vermont. However, cardiomyopathy, while life-threatening, is often treatable.
“The LVAD could be left in for days, months, or even a year or more, to give his heart time to recover, and then it could be taken out, and then he wouldn’t need a transplant. That would be the best-case scenario,” he said.
If Travis does need a heart transplant, he would be placed on a waiting list. While it’s not known how long the wait is in Texas, where Travis is hospitalized, donor organs are apportioned by need. Having an LVAD would put Travis near the top of the list, Dr. Kramer said.
The fact that the performer has a history of heavy drinking “is not a deal breaker for transplantation but could be a consideration if his liver has been affected,” Dr. Kramer said.
Travis’ diagnosis of viral cardiomyopathy is a vague, catch-all term that doesn’t point to a specific cause, he said.
“Viruses can indeed cause cardiomyopathy, but it’s also a term that doctors use when they can’t find any other explanation for the condition, said Dr. Kramer.
Travis was in good health until three weeks before being hospitalized when he contracted a viral respiratory illness, according to his doctors.
“I’m a huge Randy Travis fan and I have been forever,” said Dr. Kramer, who bought tickets for the singer’s current concert tour. “I’m just hoping that with time, and a little bit of luck, he’ll get back on his feet and be able to sing again.”
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UPDATE: Travis suffered stroke Wednesday night and was undergoing surgery to relieve pressure in his brain, his publicist said.
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