HOUSTON (KTRK) --All throughout February, millions across the country have been celebrating heart month. The goal is to increase awareness about various defects, along with overall heart health. There have been great advancements in treating children living with congenital heart defects, especially right here in Houston.
Case in point with 6-year-old Eugene. He has faced a multitude of medical challenges, after he was born with Congenitally Corrected Transposition of the Great Arteries. His health was "just OK" for the first few years of his life, then things changed.
"Around 4 1/2 years old it went down. His cardiac condition diminished," said his mother, Anne Franc. "He had surgery but it was not enough to help him."
Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Aamir Jeewa said, "After that operation, his heart function had decreased tremendously."
But that didn't stop the team at Texas Children's from exploring alternative options. They implanted Eugen's heart with a VAD, known as a ventricular assist device.
"So then it was the last hope. Technically, I would say he was dying," Franc said.
"It pulls blood out of his heart and bypasses it and sends it to his aorta," according to Dr. Jeewa. "And it's connected by an electrical cord that runs out of his abdomen to the battery packs, and the controlling unit that you see on the belt that's around him which is the brains of the machine."
This made Eugene one of the youngest patients in the country to receive this device.
Dr. Jeewa said, "And so his small size and his complex congenital heart disease anatomy made this a very challenging case for the surgeons during implantation, and managing time thereafter."
While the VAD is not a permanent fix, it has bought Eugene some time - something he did not have before surgery.
"So we are still waiting for a heart, and it's not something easy. But he has a much better quality of life I would say," Franc said.
But receiving a donor heart is complex. There are patients who have a lot of antibodies to foreign organs, and Eugene unfortunately is one of them. So finding the right match is a challenging one.
"And so the good thing about these devices is that they're very durable," Dr. Jeewa explained. "And he can go many years potentially while we search for the perfect donor for him."
Franc told us, "I'm very grateful for that because that type of machine gives you much more time to wait, for an organ.