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Mechanical Circulatory Support at University
of Colorado Hospital

The Mechanical Circulatory
Support Program at UCH has
earned the Joint Commission's
Gold Seal of ApprovalTM for
health care quality and disease-
specific certification for VADs
for Destination Therapy. The Joint
Commission is the nation's oldest
and largest standards-setting
and accrediting body in health

The Mechanical Circulatory Support program at UCH provides the community and the region with access to advanced life-sustaining devices that are used to treat patients with acute and end-stage heart failure.

A certified program

University of Colorado Hospital's Mechanical Circulatory Support program is the only one in the state that is certified by The Joint Commission, an independent, not-for-profit organization that is the nation's oldest and largest standards-setting and accrediting body in health care.

For more information, please contact the MCS Coordinator at pager (303) 266-4522 or email us at

When mechanical support is your best option

Patients who suffer mild heart failure often benefit from long-term drug treatment, a planned exercise regimen, and a change in diet. Others whose heart failure is a result of an underlying structural condition may undergo surgery to help alleviate symptoms.

For some patients with severe heart failure, however, these may not be viable treatment options. These patients have hearts with pumping action that is drastically inadequate to meet their bodies' needs. Their lives may depend on a device that helps the heart do its job better.

VADs are lifesaving "hearts in a box"

Beth's congenital heart defects required diligent monitoring, but caused her little trouble – until an echocardiogram revealed a heart valve that had deteriorated to the point she needed valve replacement surgery.

Her initial surgery ran into serious complications. Beth was rushed to University of Colorado Hospital, where cardiac surgeons Joseph Cleveland and Brett Reece implanted two ventricular assist devices (VADs) to keep her blood circulating.

The devices, initially connected to a large external pump, were later powered by a succession of portable units that acted as her "hearts in a box," as Beth called them. The VADs kept Beth alive for months until she underwent successful heart transplant surgery at UCH.


Ventricular assist devices (VADs)


University of Colorado Hospital
is testing the effectiveness of
the Thoratec Heartmate II device
as a long-term, permanent
implant (Destination Therapy).

Ventricular assist devices (VADs) provide mechanical circulation support for the heart. The implanted devices help the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) to pump blood to the lungs and the rest of the body.

VADs may be used:

  • Short term, to assist in recovery from surgery
  • As a "bridge" to assist patients waiting for a new heart (a "Bridge to Transplant," or BTT; see story below)
  • For patients whose hearts require a permanent implant for long-term pumping help ("Destination Therapy," or DT)

University of Colorado Hospital is the only facility in the region that offers a full range of ventricular assist devices to help the right, left or both ventricles pump blood more effectively.

Read the news release about FDA approval for the HeartMate II device

UCH is one of about 60 centers nationwide with Joint Commission certification for Destination Therapy.

How VADs work

Some VADS meant for short-term use are placed outside the body. Other VADs intended for long-term support are implanted in the body. All of these devices are powered by an external source (batteries or electricity). Patients with long-term VADs may be discharged from the hospital to continue their care at home.

Many VADs are air-driven (pneumatic) devices. The pump is connected to a driveline, which is attached to a battery-powered unit. The unit senses when the ventricle is full, and signals to control the heart rate. It also monitors the pump to make sure it is working correctly.

Patient education and support

UCH provides extensive education and support for those patients who require a ventricular assist device, including:

  • Lectures
  • Home visits
  • 24-hour, seven-day-a-week pager contact

Your medical team at UCH

Your medical team at UCH

The Mechanical Circulatory Support Program at UCH uses a multidisciplinary approach in the treatment of heart failure. Our team includes transplant financial counselors, transplant social workers, heart failure cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, occupational and physical therapists – and, of course, our patients and their families.

Featured doctors


Joseph C. Cleveland Jr., MD  – Surgical director of Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support and Surgical Director of the Joint Commission Disease-Specific Program – VAD for Destination Therapy. Dr. Cleveland earned his undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Southern California and his MD from the University of Washington School of Medicine. He completed his residency training at the University of Colorado Hospital and stayed on for a Cardiothoracic fellowship. Currently he is an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Andreas Brieke, MD – Medical Director of Mechanical Circulatory Support and Medical Director of the Joint Commisssion Disease-Specific Program – VAD for Destination Therapy. Dr. Brieke received his MD from Technishche Universitat Munchen in Munich, Germany. He completed his medical residency in internal medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio, and his fellowship in cardiology at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston. He currently serves as associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Core members of program

  • David MacNeill, RN – Program Manager
  • William Bradley, RN – Coordinator
  • Rachel Flynn, RN - Coordinator


Request an Appointment


  • Fundamentals of Critical Care Support

    This course is a 2 ½ day comprehensive course addressing fundamental management principles for the first 24 hours of critical care. The course purpose is to better prepare the non-intensivist and the multidisciplinary critical care team for the first 24 hours of management of the critically ill patient until transfer or appropriate critical care consultation can be arranged. Preparation of the multidisciplinary critical care team is optimized for management of acute deterioration of the critically ill patient. The FCCS course utilizes both lecture/didactic material and skills stations with simulation for integration of practice concepts in critical care.

  • ACLS Initial Class
  • Fetal Monitoring Instructor Course - AWHONN