LOS ANGELES - Researchers at Children's Hospital Los Angeles are launching a groundbreaking clinical trial to help babies born with a defect that leaves them with half a heart.
Doctors are taking their treatment of this condition to a whole new level.
In Janaury, Jasmine Guillen of Artesia was basically born with half a heart, and her mother was devastated.
"I found out when I was 20 weeks pregnant," she said.
New mother Eva Weiler was also told her daughter Elise had the rare congenital heart defect called Hypoplastic left heart syndrome or HLHS.
Weiler said, "When you hear that, you don't even know if she can even survive. Can she even live? What's available?"
Dr. Ram Kuma Subramanyan, cardiothoracic surgeon at the Heart Institute at CHLA, said, "About two or three decades ago, this condition was uniformly fatal. None of the children survived passed neo-natal or newborn period."
CHLA surgeons pioneered a series of operations that redesign and reroute the right ventricle, allowing it to pump blood back to the body, but during adolescence or early adulthood, the heart starts to fail.
Now, CHLA will be the first on the West Coast to add something new to the process: stem cells.
"We are hoping that what these stem cells do over time will cause the heart muscle to enlarge or hypertrophy, maybe even generate more cells, more like a left ventricle than a right ventricle over time," said Dr. Vaughn Starnes, co-director of the Heart Institute at CHLA.
Newborns with HLHS will have their umbilical cord blood harvested at birth. It'll then be sent to the Mayo Clinic, where it will undergo a special process.
Dr. Timothy Nelson, director of the Mayo Clinic's Todd and Karen Wanek Family Program for Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, said, "This is free. This is subsidized by the philanthropy, and we make the storage free for every HLHS family in the country today."
Both Jasmine Fuillen and Elise Weiler are awaiting their infusion of stem cells.
"That possibility is phenomenal. It gives you more hope, and there's always room for hope," said Weiler.
It's hope to make half a heart whole.