Congestive heart failure patients find new relief

Community Regional Medical Center was the first in the Valley to invest in the Aquadex FlexFlow systems that remove excess fluid from the patient with an advanced form of ultrafiltration called Aquapherisis therapy.

Mary Cornell, 69, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF) and was the first patient to be treated with the ultrafiltration system in December. She went to Community Regional for a cardiac catheterization procedure and the expertise of Dr. Ralph Wessel, associate clinical professor of medicine for University of California, San Francisco and Community Regional interventional cardiologist.

Dr. Wessel said Cornell was not ready to endure the catheterization procedure – she needed excess fluid removed before they could proceed.

“This machine has taken five liters, mostly from my lungs and my legs,” Cornell said. “I’m starting to feel a lot better. I guess more has to come off.”

 “She gained about 35 pounds of fluid within three months and the machine took off about 40 pounds by the time she left,” Dr. Wessel said.

The leading cause of fluid overload is congestive heart failure. Fluid overload can also be caused by problems with the heart, kidneys, lungs or a combination of any of these organs. It also can be experienced after trauma, surgeries and burns.

“The ultrafiltration system also shortens the patient’s length of stay, depending on their condition,” Dr. Wessel said. “It’s almost like a diuretic holiday and then they regain their responsiveness to the diuretics once they go home.”

Dr. Wessel said about 1/3 of patients with heart failure could be candidates for the treatment and eventually the machine can be used on patients with fluid overload caused by trauma or surgery.

“The machine is a very smart machine and needs very little nursing interaction,” Dr. Wessel said. “You can just put in how much fluid you would like reduced per hour and a small amount of blood is removed from the body, it passes through the filter and then extracts the water and sodium.”

Dr. Wessel is hopeful that patients like Cornell are re-admitted less often with the help of proper diet, exercise and medications. Cornell was released on Dec. 10 and is now in a rehabilitation facility gaining her strength back and looking forward to spending more time with her family.

This story was reported by Rebecca Wass. She can be reached at