Hospital is the only small regional facility invited to participate in study


FARMINGTON — The San Juan Regional Medical Center recently became the only hospital in the state to offer a life-saving heart pump,  and the medical center is taking part in a new initiative designed to study the effectiveness of the devices.

Charles Wilkins, an interventional cardiologist at the San Juan Regional Medical Heart Care Center, said the facility is the only small regional hospital in the country to be invited to participate in the National Cardiogenic Shock Initiative, which is organized by William O’Neill, head of Detroit’s Center for Structural Heart Disease.

“I think there were about 40 centers invited, and we were number 31 on the list,” Wilkins said last week. “It’s like five centers from Detroit, four or five centers from Seattle and the West Coast, and some East Coast (hospitals), but it’s all major centers in major cities, so we’re the only small-town outfit.”

The initiative studies the use and effectiveness of a heart-pump device called a percutaneous ventricular assist device, which helps a damaged heart pump blood using a small motor fed through a patient’s leg into the heart, according to the Diagnostic and Interventional Cardiology organization.

“It’s sucking blood out of the pumping chamber of the heart into the (body’s main artery called the) aorta, so it unloads the (large pumping chamber called the) ventricle so it doesn’t have to work as much,” Wilkins said.

Most patients who receive a heart pump are in cardiogenic shock — a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to sustain normal bodily functions — after surviving a heart attack or after suffering congestive heart failure, Wilkins said.

“If you catch (cardiogenic shock) early, people recover without a hitch,” Wilkins said. “If they get into a shock state, their kidneys fail, their liver fails, (and) they knock out a significant portion of their heart muscle.”

The San Juan Regional Medical Center has used different versions of the device — which is commonly called Impella, its trademark name — for several years, but it is the only hospital in New Mexico to offer the Impella RP, which is the highest-powered heart pump that can be implanted without a significant surgery, according to Wilkins. Each device costs between $25,000 and $30,000.

Between November 2011 and November 2016, 109 patients have received Impella heart pumps in Farmington in a procedure that significantly increases a patient’s chances of survival and recovery, according to Wilkins. 
Before advances in the heart pump field, patients in cardiogenic shock had a survival rate of approximately 30 percent. At SJRMC’s Heart Care Center, cardiogenic shock patients have a 70 percent survival rate, and for those whose Impella procedures are successful, the rate increases to 90 percent, Wilkins said.

The Impella devices give the San Juan Regional Medical Center “a lot more treatment options in terms of the management of critically ill patients,” Wilkins said.

Laura Werbner, public relations coordinator for the hospital, said being included in the initiative and being able to provide patients with heart pumps is “amazing.”

“It really is a testament to the quality of care that we have both here at our heart center and then in the hospital,” Werbner said. “The array of services that we’re ale to provide for our heart care patients is pretty incredible."

The Heart Care Center is hosting free cardiac screenings for teenagers from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m on Dec. 9 in the Cath Lab and Radiology waiting area, according to a press release from Werbner. More information, including online registration, can be found at the hospital's website,

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or

Editor's Note: This story was modified to correctly reflect the timeline for the number of patients who received Impella heart pumps in Farmington. — Ed.

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