Tiny heart pumps saving children's lives

January 25, 2012 4:58:31 PM PST
There's an amazing new way to save the lives of babies with a tiny heart pump that works on the outside of their body, and this newly approved device has actually been saving babies in Houston for years.

Four-month-old Dahlia's beautiful smile doesn't betray her precarious future: She has heart failure and will die without a transplant.

"She was in real bad shape. She was on the ventilator and we couldn't hold her or anything," said Dahlia's mother, Emily Ochoa.

To keep her alive until the transplant, Dahlia got a tiny heart pump outside her body.

"At first, it was a shock," Emily Ochoa said.

Two months later, Emily and Brian Ochoa became used to their baby living with a Berlin heart pump.

"Surprisingly it's small enough and maneuverable enough that we can hold her as long as you're careful and don't kink the hoses," Brian said.

The blood comes out of the heart and into the tube before it goes into a tiny round pump the size of a silver dollar. Then her blood is pumped back into her aorta.

It's powered by a computer and her surgeon, Texas Children's Hospital surgeon-in-chief Dr. Charles Fraser, says it's enabled her to actually get stronger.

"This is a giant step forward for children," Dr. Fraser said.

The FDA approved the Berlin heart in December but Texas Children's has been doing the surgery for seven years. They've implanted 30 babies and children like Dahlia, saving their lives until they could get a heart transplant.

"This is an enormous godsend for children with heart failure," Dr. Fraser said.

"We can hold her and play with her. She's doing a lot better," Emily Ochoa said.

Dahlia could live for a year with the Berlin heart.

"We're just grateful for every day I have with her," Emily Ochoa said.

In Europe, some babies are even able to go home with the Berlin heart while they wait for a transplant.