Help for Small Hearts

August 29, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
For patients awaiting a heart transplant, it's a race against the clock. But a new device is buying doctors more time, especially for the smallest patients.Derek Hernandez loves to play games ? all types of games! Just to see Derek have a little fun is a relief to his mother.

"He's had to mature a lot quicker than a lot of thirteen year olds," Derek's mom, Bonnie Fraga, told Ivanhoe.

That's because when Derek was just 10, doctors diagnosed him with an enlarged heart.

"He started complaining of a stomach ache," Bonnie said. "I took him in for his stomach pain and we found out that the stomach pain was coming from the fact that his heart was failing."

Medications treated Derek's disease for two years, but when he needed a transplant, the team at Texas Children's Hospital stepped in.

"Donor hearts are a very precious and scarce commodity," Charles Fraser, M.D., the chief of congenital heart surgery at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, Texas, told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Fraser used the Berlin Heart to keep Derek alive.

"Prior to this device, we didn't have much to offer children with failing circulation," Dr. Fraser said.

The Berlin Heart takes over for the patient's heart and allows it to rest. This lets the patient's body gain strength, usually making them a better candidate for heart transplantation.

"One of the very attractive features of the Berlin Heart is that it comes in different sizes," Dr. Fraser said.

Small enough to treat a six pound baby ? large enough for a growing teen. It actually strengthened Derek's body before his heart transplant. Before the transplant, Derek was 60 pounds underweight. After four months on the Berlin Heart, he had gained 22 pounds.

"I think Derek was a better transplant patient," Dr. Fraser said. "He was able to eat, he was ambulatory, he was off a ventilator."

"Me and my physical therapist and my mom would go to the basement and would walk all around," Derek told Ivanhoe.

Seventy-seven percent of patients who get the Berlin Heart survive to their transplant surgery.

"To have a patient like Derek, who would not have otherwise survived, and we were able to bridge him through to a transplant is extremely gratifying and it gives us confidence to go forward with this," Dr. Fraser said.

"This is our miracle," Bonnie said.

A playing, smiling, healthy miracle.

Texas Children's Hospital and nine others in the United States are researching the Berlin Heart for FDA approval. The FDA is expected to evaluate information from the trial in about three years. The Berlin Heart has been used successfully in Europe since 1992.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Texas Children's Hospital
www.texaschildrens.org

U.S. Clinical Trials
clinicaltrials.gov


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