Artifical heart pumps saving babies' lives

August 8, 2012 5:01:36 PM PDT
There's new hope for hundreds of babies born with heart failure each year.

A national study led by Texas Children's Hospital has found that a new "baby" heart pump is successfully keeping these babies alive. And most of the babies are going on to have successful heart transplants and a normal life.

This was four-month-old Dahlia in January. It was hard to believe she was dying of heart failure. But she was kept alive by a tiny heart pump that was on the outside of her body.

"She's been doing a lot better since she's been on the Berlin Heart," said her mother, Emily Ochoa.

Emily and Brian Ochoa were grateful for the pump called the Berlin Heart. It not only kept Dahlia alive but she got stronger. Now, a national study led by Texas Children's Hospital surgeons showed how successful the pump was at saving babies' lives.

"Of the 48 patients who were implanted, roughly 90 percent of them survived, which is we expected it was giong to be good; we didn't expect it was going to be that good," said Dr. Charles Fraser, Texas Children's lead investigator.

Most were like Dahlia and went on to have successful heart transplants. Dahlia is doing well and is back at home. A few babies had their hearts heal on their own, and the pump was removed.

The smallest of the Berlin Hearts is used to save newborns who were just a few days old.

The pump comes in different sizes, for growing babies who need a larger pump. Some babies have survived on it for a year, but that's not the goal. The idea is to buy time until a baby can get a heart transplant. The pump was approved by the FDA last December, but at Texas Children's, they've been working on it for seven years.

"It is a godsend. We're grateful that the process was brought to fruition. It was challenging and frustrating. I wish that this could have happened a long time ago," Dr. Fraser said.

With these study results, doctors here believe the tiny pump will be used to save 400-500 babies a year.

In the next step: Houston surgeons are hoping to have a fully implantable heart pump for babies in the next couple of years, just like the LVADs they have now for adults.


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