Giving Hope: World’s smallest heart pump makes a huge impact

Sean Cannoles’ life was saved by Impella, a small heart pump. He’s grateful for the time he can spend with his wife, Vicky, and daughters Riley, 11, and Stella, 9. (Dennis Murphy/Contributor)

By Kaila Mellos

Sean Cannoles woke up on March 11, 2021, and followed his usual routine.

The Sun City West resident worked out and started to make breakfast for his wife and kids. Then, his day took an unexpected turn.

“I got ready for work and then went downstairs, cooked breakfast, and sat at the table joking around with Vicky and the kids,” Sean recounts. 

“I got up to get some water and don’t remember anything from there on; it just all went blank.”

Sean had a heart attack. Vicky performed CPR on him as he lay on the kitchen floor, nonresponsive. Her parents who live with them called 911. 

He was transported to Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center, where doctors confirmed he had a heart attack. By the time he had arrived at the hospital, Sean received 105 minutes of chest compressions from his wife, painters at a neighboring house, EMTs, police officers and hospital staff to keep him alive. 

“He was in the hospital for three weeks, and the first week and a half, he was not conscious,” Vicky says. “When he woke up, he literally remembered nothing.”

In 2017, Sean learned he had a congenital heart defect that caused mitral valve regurgitation. He underwent open heart surgery to repair his mitral valve and ultimately recovered.  

Given Sean’s medical history and his 5% ejection fraction, he was a candidate for Impella, which is called the smallest heart pump. Interventional cardiologist Dr. Pradeep Agarwal inserted the Impella CP heart pump. After three days, Sean was transferred to Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix for escalated care. 

After two more days of support, Sean’s heart recovered enough to function on its own and Impella was weaned. 

“It was moment to moment on Sean’s status, and that’s when the Impella implant came in,” Vicky says. 

“The implant was the thing that saved his life. It gave his heart time to rest and heal, while his body was also resting and healing, but it kept everything pumping.”

Created by Abiomed, Impella is designed to assume heart functions so patients can recover before further procedures. In Sean’s case, he needed a pacemaker and defibrillator.

Abiomed Vice President Dr. Seth Bilazarian has witnessed what the device has done for more than 200,000 patients.

“The device’s main values are two things,” Bilazarian says. 

“One is to allow support for the physician to do some kind of corrective procedure, whether improving blood flow by fixing arteries or other procedures and two by just allowing time to help the heart recover.”

Patients receive Impella quickly to maximize the ability for it to work correctly.

“From the time the patient arrives in the procedural room, in about 7 minutes, they can be on that level of support that Impella has to offer, which is really extraordinary,” Bilazarian says.

There are three Impella models that last various times. 

“The different devices have different approved durations from four days out to 14 days,” Bilazarian says. 

The devices have been known to last long, though.

“Many times, they’ve been used for much longer than that, with some of the devices used for more than 100 days,” Bilazarian says. 

“But four to 14 days is what the FDA has allowed us to put in our label.”

Once Sean was released about a month later, he had a couple more cardiac events. Without the Impella as a bridge to the defibrillator, it could have been worse. This time, it took cardioversions to restore his regular heartbeat. 

“Knock on wood and thank God that we haven’t had anything since last September, and he’s been doing very well,” Victoria says.

Now that he hasn’t had any event since last September, Sean has resumed his life.

“I’m just trying to live as normal of a life as normal as possible,” he says.