If you see a 1938 Packard on the streets of Southern California, chances are Ken Brass is behind the wheel.
The vintage car, painted in deep Loyola Maroon, is one of the great loves of Brass’ life. He and his wife, Lavinia, showcase their beautifully restored Packard whenever they can — at classic car shows, holiday parades and community events.
Brass, who has end-stage heart failure, would not be alive today without a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) — a mechanical heart pump. In 2015, at age 87, Brass became the oldest patient at Sharp Memorial Hospital to receive an LVAD.
Today, he’s one of the oldest people in the U.S. living with the device.
“I feel good and life is great,” says Brass. “I look forward to getting up every morning and doing the things we do. It’s just awesome.”
Until recently, most U.S. hospitals would’ve turned away Brass simply because of his age. Older adults tend to have more health problems, so it was assumed these patients would experience too many complications with an LVAD.
Doctors at Sharp Memorial challenged that notion in a landmark 2011 research study, which found that adults age 70 or older who fit all other criteria had just as much success with the device compared to younger patients. Other hospitals began reporting similar results, and now older patients are being considered for LVADs more often.
At Sharp Memorial, 44 patients over age 70 are currently living with the device. They’ve traveled all over the world, celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, and enjoyed hobbies.
“LVADs don’t just hold out the promise of a longer life — it offers a better quality of life,” says Dr. Brian Jaski, Brass’ cardiologist at Sharp Memorial and a co-author of the 2011 study. “We all deserve the chance to have a better tomorrow, no matter our age.”
Today, tens of thousands of people worldwide are kept alive with LVADs — a number that is only expected to grow as the rate of advanced heart failure increases.
Though initially designed to keep patients alive until they could receive a transplant, LVADs are now considered a “destination therapy” for patients like Brass, who would never qualify for a new heart because of age or other factors. About 70 percent of LVAD patients are still alive two years after they receive the device, a success rate nearing that of heart transplants.
Brass, a retired firefighter, says he’s grateful for every day.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what the grandkids will make of their lives,” says Brass. “I have six of them. I want to live for that.”
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Jaski about LVADs in older adults for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.