The last thing Dan Wolpert remembers before collapsing in front of the emergency room entrance at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester is shutting his car door behind him. He woke up four days later, after having a heart attack, after having been resuscitated five times, after getting a couple of stents, and after having the Impella 2.5, the world’s smallest heart pump, implanted in his heart.
Wolpert was one of the first people in New England to get the Impella. The device had only received FDA approval a few months before. Without it, Wolpert says his heart “definitely was not pumping enough blood to keep me alive.”
The Impella’s small size—smaller than the width of a pencil—allows it to be implanted through the femoral artery, rather than by opening a patient’s chest and making an incision in the aorta.
“Because the pump is so small, it can be put into the heart within minutes through a small hole in the leg,” says Michael R. Minogue, CEO, chairman, and president of Abiomed, the Danvers–based company that makes the Impella and that has pioneered life-saving medical technology since it was founded in 1981.
Once the Impella is implanted, it pumps the heart mechanically, allowing the muscle to get the rest it needs to recover.
“When our pump goes in, it mechanically pumps the blood out of the left ventricle. So it starts doing the work for the heart muscle,” Minogue says. It’s also temporary; the device is removed after it’s done its job.
Wolpert remembers the shock of meeting the head of UMass Memorial Medical Center’s transplant team while he was in the hospital, but fear turned into relief, thanks to the Impella pump. It not only allowed his heart muscle to rest and recover, but saved him from eventually needing a heart transplant, which is expensive, requires taking immunosuppressing drugs, and has only about a 50 percent 10-year life expectancy. The Impella manages to not only save lives but save money, too, and to do so in a minimally invasive way.
“It is the Holy Grail,” Minogue says. “If you can send somebody home with their own heart and improve the muscle, that’s always going to be the best outcome for the patient.”
Of Danvers, Minogue says, “It’s a great place to work and a great place to recruit people. The access to talent in the area itself is outstanding.” He also appreciates the area for its location: “Danvers is a great spot because you have access to some of the best hospitals, some of the best teaching institutions,” he says. It also offers a nice quality of life, thanks to the town’s proximity to Boston, skiing, and the ocean.
Abiomed is continuing to expand, both at its Danvers facility and in its medical device offerings; Minogue jokingly calls it a “34-year-old start-up company.” Not only are its heart pumps “going to keep getting smaller and smarter,” but they’ll help more patients, too. For instance, in March 2015, the company received FDA approval to use the Impella 2.5 heart pump during elective and urgent high-risk percutaneous coronary intervention procedures, and in January, the Impella RP System became the first percutaneous single-access heart pump designed for right-heart support to receive FDA approval.
“That’s a brand-new application,” Minogue says of the right-side device. “There’s no other product like it in the world.”
Meanwhile, seven years after his brush with death, Wolpert sees a cardiologist regularly, has an implanted defibrillator that’s never fired, and leads a pretty normal life.
“I was able to get back to racing my car and downhill skiing,” he says. “Without the Impella, I’m pretty sure my life would have been very, very different.”