At Phoenix VA, Telemedicine Averts Fatality for LVAD Patient

Picutre of the Phoenix VA

Gerald Hornbeck is a 73-year-old Veteran who lives with his wife in Gilbert, Arizona, approximately 40 miles from the Phoenix Veterans Administration Health Care System (PVAHCS).

In 2012, after being diagnosed with end-stage heart failure, he was implanted with a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) at the University of Utah Medical Center. Since then, the LVAD has taken over the task of pumping blood to the rest of his body.

Recently, at his home in Gilbert, while irrigating his two-acre property, Gerald slipped and fell into a ditch full of water.

He knew this was life-threatening, because the battery powered LVAD cannot function if it’s wet.

Within minutes, the pump stopped working. He opened the battery pack, shook the device to get the water out of it, and reconnected it. The LVAD seemed to operate normally, but Gerald knew it had to be checked out by a cardiology specialist and the LVAD coordinator.

But there was one big problem: the LVAD Coordinator was in Utah.

Gerald came to the Phoenix VA and met with a cardiology nurse practitioner, who was able to connect with the University of Utah Medical Center using a Clinical Video Telehealth (CVT) connection.

The CVT’s state-of-the-art, encrypted, video technology enabled the LVAD coordinator in Utah and the cardiology nurse practitioner in Phoenix to to work together to successfully switch out the water-damaged LVAD controller and replace it with a new – and perfectly dry – controller.  

Needless to say, when the LVAD controller is disconnected, there is no blood circulating to the rest of the body. And the University of Utah Medical Center is a full two days drive from Phoenix.

It’s hard to hug a CVT. But as far as Gerald Hornbeck and his wife are concerned, the technology helped save his life. And for that, they will always be thankful.

About the Author

Valentin O. Rivish, DNP, RN, NE-BC has been a registered nurse since 2000, when he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Arizona State University. He continued his education and earned a Master of Science in Nursing degree from the University of Phoenix in 2007. In December 2016, he completed a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Chamberlain College of Nursing.

He has worked with the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System for the last 16 years in multiple roles, including MICU nurse; Case Manager; Clinical Applications Coordinator, Facility Telehealth Coordinator/Nurse Manager; Chief Nurse, Telehealth Specialist and E-Consult Coordinator, and currently the Director of Telehealth.  Besides his full-time job at the VA, he has taught in the Nursing Division at Gateway Community College, and is a member of the editorial team for the online journal of nursing informatics as a peer reviewer.