Health Day - ONLINE EDITION

Country Singer Randy Travis Suffers a Stroke

Doctors had implanted a device to help his weakened heart pump blood

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THURSDAY, July 11 (HealthDay News) -- Country music star Randy Travis suffered a stroke Wednesday night following a viral heart infection he was first hospitalized for on Sunday.

The singer underwent surgery late Wednesday night to relieve pressure on his brain, and remains in critical condition, according to his publicist.

Earlier Wednesday, Travis' doctors had implanted a device designed to help his heart pump properly.

The singer, who has congestive heart failure, received what is known as a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), which helps the weakened left ventricle push blood through the aorta and throughout the body.

Sometimes the device can be removed if the patient makes a full recovery, but other times it serves as a temporary solution until a heart transplant can be performed. Former Vice President Dick Cheney had an LVAD before he had his heart transplant, USA Today reported.

Travis is being treated at The Heart Hospital at Baylor Plano in Texas. He was first hospitalized after he developed what he thought was a cold. The 54-year-old was later diagnosed with a serious condition known as viral cardiomyopathy, which can lead to congestive heart failure.

Viral cardiomyopathy occurs when a virus infects and attacks the heart, leading to inflammation and a reduced ability to pump blood throughout the body, according to the Heart and Vascular Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. This particular form of cardiomyopathy can progress rapidly, and while it only accounts for 1 percent of all heart disease deaths in the United States, it is one of the most common causes of heart disease in younger people.

One expert explained how viral cardiomyopathy can quickly develop into a life-threatening condition.

"Myocarditis is an inflammatory condition which can occur when the heart is infected by a virus. The condition can range from a minor flu-like illness to critical cardiogenic shock," said Dr. Sean Pinney, director of the Advanced Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplantation Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

"Most patients will experience only minor degrees of heart dysfunction and will make a full recovery," Pinney continued. "For those patients in whom the virus produces greater degrees of heart dysfunction, full recovery is possible, but less likely. About half of these patients will develop chronic heart failure, and another 25 percent will need a heart transplant or a mechanical assist device," he noted.

"The cornerstone of treatment is to provide excellent supportive care," Pinney explained. "This may include the use of ventricular assist devices, which are surgically implanted pumps designed to support the circulation until the heart can recover or until a heart transplant is performed. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs have been used, but it is not clear whether they are helpful in aiding recovery."

Another expert outlined a similar prognosis.

"Viral myocarditis is an unfortunate condition where the virus attacks the heart muscle, causing heart damage similar to a heart attack," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "In some situations the heart will recover and in others it will not, leading to heart failure. All we can do is give supportive care, careful monitoring and waiting."

Viral cardiomyopathy can be caused by more than 30 different viruses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These can include common flu viruses, cold viruses, Epstein Barr virus and hepatitis C.

Travis had been trying to get his life back on track following numerous public incidents last year that centered around his use of alcohol. The 11-time Grammy winner pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in January following his arrest last year when he was found naked after crashing his Pontiac Trans Am.

Some of his most celebrated songs include "Forever and Ever, Amen" and "Three Wooden Crosses." He had 18 singles top the music charts during the 1980s and 1990s.

More information

For more on myocarditis, go to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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