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A pinky-sized LVAD kept a 16-month-old baby alive for almost 2 weeks. This period was necessary to bridge the gap to a heart transplant.

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The Italian baby, a boy, was born with dilated cardiomyopathy. A heart muscle disease in which the heart continues to enlarge and therefore becomes so weak and thin that it becomes increasingly difficult to pump blood. A heart transplant was the only thing that could save him, but there was no prospect of a suitable donor heart.

“This patient had been in intensive care with us since he was one month old. He was like a mascot, he was one of us.” says Dr Antonio Amedeo of the Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome. “We felt so connected to this child, who was with us throughout his life, that we had no choice but to do everything we could to save his life.”

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The boy had already had a Berlin Hart implanted, an external version of the LVAD, which is used in children in end-stage heart failure. The blood circulation is brought outside the body via tubes and pumped around by means of the support heart. This patient developed a dangerous infection, which created a critical situation.

dr. Robert Jarvik, who as an assistant to Willem Kolf had witnessed the development of the artificial heart up close, had developed a small pump weighing only 11 grams. Until now, this support heart was only tested on animals and therefore not yet available.

dr. Amodeo and his team reached out to Jarvik and begged him to use his latest invention on their little patient. This was only possible with special permission from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Italian Ministry of Health. This bump also managed to take the hospital and so this little LVAD was implanted in a baby for the first time. For 13 days the child lived on the pump, the infection was able to heal and the condition improved. Electricity problems forced the doctors to switch back to the Berlin Hart. Fortunately, a donor heart presented itself two days later and the boy was successfully transplanted.

“It's unbelievable,” said Amodeo, “the transplant took place in April and has been so successful that we expect him to be able to go home any minute and finally be put into the hands of his mother.”

For an English version you can look here.