Ventricular Assist Device Program

Welcome to the Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. The VAD team, along with the Heart Failure, Cardiomyopathy, and Heart Transplant teams, is leading the way in advanced treatments for children with the most severe forms of heart failure. These teams work closely with you to understand your child’s condition and develop a customized care plan that will best meet her needs, with the goal of getting her back to feeling healthy.

New technology has enabled many heart failure patients to live and thrive with the help of ventricular assist devices, or VADs. VADs are implanted, electrically powered heart pumps that work with the heart to improve blood flow. As a high-volume surgical center, Boston Children’s has extensive experience in using many different forms of mechanical circulatory support. We are a national leader in the use of ventricular assist devices for children with single ventricle defects as well as other complex congenital heart diseases.


Christina VanderPluym, MD, of Boston Children's Hospital.

We have been increasing our use of VADs every year since our program began in 2005. Since that time, we have implanted 58 devices in 49 patients, including 18 VADs in 2014 alone.

Why use a VAD?

VADs are used for children with severe forms of heart failure for a variety of reasons: 

  • Bridge to Decision (BTD): A VAD is implanted to support an acutely failing heart. It immediately stabilizes the patient and allows time for the health care team to gather all the necessary information to provide the patient and family with the best long-term treatment option.
  • Bridge to Recovery (BTR): A VAD is placed with the intent of unloading (helping) the heart and allowing the heart muscle to recover, with the eventual goal being removal (explantation) of the VAD once the heart can pump sufficiently on its own.
  • Bridge to Transplant (BTT): A VAD is implanted in patients who are waiting for a heart transplant but becoming more ill as a result of progressive heart failure. BTT VADs improve the patient’s condition and quality of life while they wait for the most suitable donor heart.
  • Destination Therapy (DT) or Life-Long Therapy: A VAD is implanted for long-term heart support in people who do not qualify for heart transplantation.

We have found that overall quality of life for children with end-stage heart failure can improve significantly after a VAD implant. Patients who are able to return home with their VAD can participate in many normal life routines and activities.  

How do I know if a VAD can help my child?

Christina VanderPluym, MD, of Boston Children's Hospital, with a patient.Patients identified as being in advanced heart failure can be referred to the VAD program by their PCP, primary cardiologist, or other subspecialist. Our team of expert clinicians will perform a comprehensive evaluation of your son or daughter to determine if a VAD is an appropriate option, and if so, which type of VAD is right for him or her.

The process of deciding whether a patient is eligible, implanting the device, and (when possible) preparing to go home is often lengthy. It makes many demands on patients, families, and caregivers, as does living at home with a VAD. All of this works best when there is a cooperative working relationship between patients and caregivers and the VAD Team at Boston Children's Hospital.