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Tiny heart pump helps child patients wait for transplant

April 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
When a child has heart failure, a transplant is often the only hope. But to keep kids alive while they wait on the transplant list, doctors may use artificial pumps. Some are way too big and others require major surgery. A tiny device is changing the game for some of the smallest patients.

Card games are a good distraction for sisters Emily and Shayde Smith. Both suffer from a serious heart condition known as restrictive cardiomyopathy.

Four years ago younger sister Emily had a transplant to replace her failing heart, but a couple months ago her body started to reject the donor heart.

"We had to determine a way to support Emily as quickly as possible, or we were worried that we were going to lose her," said interventional cardiologist Dr. Vivian Dimas.

Doctors used the world's smallest heart pump, the Impella, to keep Emily alive. Instead of major open-heart surgery, the Impella is inserted through an artery in the leg.

A catheter pulls the blood out of the heart's left ventricle and ejects it to the aorta so the heart can pump blood. Emily used the device for five days.

"If we wouldn't have had that, she wouldn't have made it," said Emily's mother.

Emily got a second heart transplant. Now Shayde needs a transplant too.

"It's pretty scary to know I have to go exactly through the same thing that she is," said Shayde.

It can be used for patients as young as 9. Doctors are now working on a smaller pump they hope can help patients as young as 3.

As for Shayde, Emily will be by her side through it all.

The Impella is designed to be a temporary device. Currently it's FDA-approved for up to six hours in adults. For kids like Emily it's being used off-label for up to seven days.


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