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Abbey Shanah Bridgett’s heart failed when she was only 8. She may have died, doctors say, if not for an experimental, child-size artificial heart pump that kept her alive while awaiting a heart transplant.
For years, pumps have been used successfully for adults awaiting transplants, but only recently have U.S. researchers focused attention on devices for the tiniest heart patients. Because so few children need such technology – maybe 30 or 40 a year in the United States – there has been no commercial interest in producing such pumps in the United States. At Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, surgeons have been working with a European ventricular assist device called the Berlin Heart. They have implanted the device, approved for use in Europe, in Shanah and another child.
Shanah was near death when she got her implant; eight days later, she received a donor heart. Now her mother often has to scold her for doing one-handed cartwheels.
The pediatric Berlin Heart has only been used in the United States 12 times, in each case with emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
About 25 percent of children waiting for new hearts die before receiving a transplant, and the Berlin Heart could reduce that number. Victor O. Morell, MD, chief of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery at Children’s Hospital, said even a wait of a few days for the FDA’s emergency approval for the pump can cost lives.
The device sits outside of the body and is connected to the heart and vessels by a pair of tubes. Children implanted with the Berlin Heart tend to become stronger and healthier, putting them in a better condition to survive transplantation.
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh physicians and others are working on a completely implantable pump that is about the size of a chestnut.
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4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
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