Doctors in Italy have implanted the world’s smallest artificial heart into a 16-month-old boy, keeping the the baby alive until a donor was located for a transplant.
Even though the operation took place last month, it was just made public this week by the doctors at Rome’s Bambino Gesu hospital. The artificial heart kept the baby alive for 13 days before the transplant. The boy, whose identity has not been released, is now doing well.
The baby was suffering from a heart muscle disease called dilated myocardiopathy, which usually causes the fibers of the heart to be enlarged or stretched. A heart afflicted by this disease gradually grows weaker, eventually losing its ability to effectively pump blood.
Surgeon Antonio Amodeo referred to the operation as a “milestone” when he spoke to Reuters television. He added that even though this device was now used as bridge to a transplant, it could be used as a permanent solution in the future.
Amodeo said, “From a surgical point of view, this was not really difficult. The only difficulty that we met is that the child was operated on several times before.”
Before the artificial heart was implanted, the child had a mechanical pump that had been fitted to support the function of his natural heart, but he developed a serious infection around it.
While an artificial heart for adults weighs about 900 grams, this little titanium wonder weighs only 11 grams. It is capable of handling blood flow of 1.5 liters per minute.
Amodeo said he and his team wanted to do everything to help the baby, who had become like family to them. The doctor said, “The patient was in our intensive care unit since one month of age. So he was a mascot for us, he was one of us…Every day, every hour, for more than one year he was with us. So when we had a problem we couldn’t do anything more than our best.”
According to doctors, the device, which had previously only been tested on animals, was invented by American Doctor Robert Jarvik. Jarvik and the Italian health ministry granted special permission for the hospital to go ahead with the procedure.