By KEVIN RYAN, MS, CCDS, CVRx Business Manager, Florida Gulf Coast
As the COVID-19 crisis continues, many who contracted the virus are experiencing lasting effects, commonly known as post-COVID Syndrome. From the simple loss of taste to more serious issues, such as neurological problems and respiratory distress, thousands of COVID patients are facing residual symptoms. Among the most concerning of those after-effects is heart damage.
A compromised population
According to the American Heart Association, nearly one-fourth of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have been diagnosed with cardiovascular complications, which, in turn, has contributed to roughly 40 percent of COVID-19-related deaths. To make matters worse, people with pre-existing heart conditions were more likely to contract the COVID-19 virus, leaving those most vulnerable in a detrimental situation.
Even without the impact of COVID, there are still an estimated 6.2 million adults living with systolic heart failure (HFrEF) in the United States. For those individuals, everyday activities, such as walking up and down the stairs or playing with their grandkids, become exceedingly challenging, resulting in more hospital visits and a diagnosis that can potentially lead to death within five years. Add COVID to that, and the likelihood of survival is low.
The journey back from the brink
One patient in the Orlando area knows first-hand how damaging the symptoms of HFrEF are to daily life. Having a history of minor congestive heart failure, Donna Rogers, a 50-year-old mother of three and grandmother of one, was starting to feel the effects of her condition. To combat the symptoms, she began living a healthier lifestyle and had been focused on losing weight. All was going well, until she noticed she had become increasingly nauseous and was having a hard time keeping anything down. Her daughter, concerned it was a strain of the stomach flu, convinced Donna to seek medical help and took her to the emergency room. After a few tests, the results were shocking.
Donna had tested positive for COVID-19, a virus she had taken every precaution against – from sanitizing everything in sight, to wearing masks and gloves out in public. From February until September, Donna was in and out of the hospital, first battling COVID itself, and then the lasting effects of the virus. Her once minor congestive heart failure had become magnified. In September 2020, she was once again admitted to the hospital, where it became clear her condition was declining. Donna had lost a lot of blood and gained almost 60 pounds in fluid weight. As her condition worsened, she seemed on the brink of death, and had to be resuscitated twice. Just when all seemed hopeless, Donna was presented with a life-changing solution by her Orlando-based cardiologist, Dr. Hector Lozano and his colleague, vascular surgeon Dr. Manny Perez, both of AdventHealth Orlando Hospital.
A novel and effective therapy
Having lost her job due to the pandemic, and in turn her insurance, her treatment options were few. Medications were not sufficient, and due to the severity of her case, she needed customized care. Thankfully, Donna’s cardiologist introduced her to a novel therapy for the treatment of HFrEF symptoms called Barostim™ Baroflex Activation Therapy. Designated a “Breakthrough Therapy” by the FDA. Barostim uses neuromodulation - the power of the brain and nervous system - to improve the symptoms of patients with systolic HF. Unlike other devices, Barostim does not directly touch the heart, but is instead delivered by the Barostim NEO system, an implantable device that uses CVRx-patented technology to send electrical pulses to baroreceptors located in the wall of the carotid artery. The minimally invasive procedure typically takes less than 60 minutes to complete.
“We were involved in the clinical studies evaluating the safety and effectiveness of this device for the past several years,” noted Dr. Lozano. “There are a significant number of patients who have no other device or drug options to help them feel better, and so we were happy to now be able to offer it to Ms. Rogers, as well as many more patients around the Orlando area who can benefit from it.”
“I didn't have any other choice. It was whether I live or die, and I choose to live,” said Donna. “If you've ever been in a hospital, you'll see that everybody is coming at you like, ‘I'm doctor this, I'm doctor that,’ but the doctors engaged with me in a way that I felt comfortable. They explained how Barostim worked and assured me that their medical team would take very good care of me.”
Back to normal
Barostim triggers the body’s own natural blood flow regulation system to treat HF symptoms and is designed to aid HF patients who have no proven treatment options today. Thanks to the device, patients, like Donna, are able to return to normal activities, such as spending time with loved ones, and lead healthier, more active lives. As a result of her COVID diagnosis, Donna’s recovery took slightly longer than an average patient implanted with the device. That said, she was still discharged only three days after her procedure and was given a second chance at life.
Since recovery, Donna has been able to return to everyday life, and has even dropped the fluid weight gained from her hospital stay. She has regained her mobility, no longer needing the aid of a wheelchair or cane, but instead climbing flights of stairs.
“Believe it or not, last month I was actually able to walk up and down the stairs from the first floor to the third floor. I had to stop and look back, like, was that me? I can move around without effort now,” said Rogers.
There is still much to learn about the effects COVID-19 has on the heart, but, in cases like Donna Rogers, there is much optimism about how those suffering from post-COVID Syndrome with heart failure symptoms can regain a normal lifestyle through breakthrough therapies such as Barostim.
CVRx Barostim Baroflex Activation Therapy
CVRx’s Barostim Baroflex Activation Therapy is the first medical technology approved by the FDA that uses neuromodulation - the power of the brain and nervous system - to improve the symptoms of patients with systolic heart failure (HFrEF). Barostim is delivered by the Barostim NEO Generator™, an implantable device that uses CVRx-patented technology to send electrical pulses to baroreceptors located in the wall of the carotid artery. Baroreceptors trigger the body’s baroreflex which in turn triggers an autonomic response to the heart. The therapy is designed to restore balance to the autonomic nervous system and thereby reduce the symptoms of HF. Barostim NEO received the FDA Breakthrough Device designation and is FDA-approved for use in HF patients in the US. It has also received the CE Mark for HF and resistant hypertension in the European Economic Area. To learn more about Barostim, watch this video.
Headquartered in Minneapolis, MN., CVRx® is a leader in innovative medical technologies that address the unmet needs in cardiovascular diseases with safe and effective therapies that harness and harmonize the body’s natural systems. CVRx is dedicated to improving patient outcomes, quality of life, and overall cardiovascular health via novel baroreceptor neuromodulation therapies.