News Release: Emory Healthcare

Sep. 14,  2009

Emory Ventricular Assist Device Program Earns Gold Seal From Accrediting Agency

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Emory University Hospital's Cardiac Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) destination therapy program has earned the "Gold Seal of Approval" from The Joint Commission, which accredits nearly 16,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States.

Emory's VAD program is the only certified program of its kind in Georgia and one of 80 centers in the United States. The program will be re-evaluated for continued certification on a two-year cycle. Emory received the ‘Disease-Specific Care Certification' after an on-site survey Aug. 17 and 18 by a Joint Commission reviewer. While the recognition is an honor for the VAD program, which is celebrating its 21st year of existence, the certification also means that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will now provide reimbursement for the care of these patients at Emory who require destination therapy.  

In 2006, surgeons at Emory University Hospital implanted Georgia's first ventricular assist device (VAD) as a form of destination therapy (in place of a donor transplant) for individuals who are not eligible for - or unwilling to undergo - a heart transplant. A ventricular assist device is a battery-operated mechanical pump that helps a weakened heart pump blood throughout the body. It is most commonly used as a bridge to transplant for those whose medical therapy has failed and who are hospitalized with end-stage heart failure. More recently, the VAD is providing an alternative to transplant. VADs allow a near normal quality of life, with most patients returning home with their families.        

"This advanced certification of distinction means that we meet certain quality standards established by The Joint Commission and by CMS," says J. David Vega, MD, professor of surgery, Emory University School of Medicine, and director of Heart Transplantation/Mechanical Circulatory Support at Emory University Hospital. "It means that our institution complies with the highest national standards for patient safety and quality of care. The Joint Commission certifies that Emory University Hospital has the necessary infrastructure in place for a program of this magnitude."

According to Vega, the announcement is good news for patients with advanced heart failure in this region because EUH is the only hospital in Georgia and South Carolina certified to offer this advanced technology. Certification should also make a difference to referring physicians considering Emory who have patients with advanced heart failure and don't have options available in their community. Emory's Center for Heart Failure Therapy (opened in 1990) exists to offer advanced treatment options to those patients.

"To referring physicians, we seek to be a partner in identifying which patients would best benefit from long-term ventricular assist device therapy," says Dr. Vega. "Our goal is to safely integrate patients treated with VAD therapy back to their respective communities." Vega says Emory has the capacity to handle demand and patients can be seen within a week of calling for an appointment.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing there are currently more than 2,900 Americans, 43 in Georgia, who are currently awaiting a heart transplant. Regardless of the number of donor hearts available, many patients are not candidates for a heart transplant for a variety of reasons including cancer, personal and religious beliefs, blood clotting problems, and other debilitating health conditions.

There are approximately 5 million Americans who suffer from congestive heart failure, with another half million diagnosed each year. Many of these people are limited by the severity of their heart failure, yet are not able to be transplanted for one of many reasons. Ventricular assist devices may be a viable option for many patients allowing them to resume a much more normal lifestyle and improved quality of living.

The Heart Transplant Program has been in existence at Emory University Hospital since 1985 when it performed the first heart transplant in Georgia. Today, the patient survival rates are among the best in the country. Emory's heart transplant program has an experienced multi-disciplinary team highly skilled in the care of heart transplant candidates and recipients. This team includes cardiologists, a transplant surgeon, transplant coordinators, a social worker, mental health specialists, a pharmacist, a clinical nutritionist, a physical therapist, a chaplain, staff nurses, and a financial coordinator. Each member of this team offers a specialized service in the care of our transplant patients as well as in heart failure therapy.

For more information about LVAD Therapy at Emory, visit  


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include schools of medicine, nursing, and public health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; the Emory Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.3 billion budget, 17,000 employees, 2,300 full-time and 1,900 affiliated faculty, 4,300 students and trainees, and a $4.9 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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