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Life-saving Heart Pump Developed for Children


HOUSTON — A study unveiled this week in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrates the safety and benefits of a small heart pump first developed in Germany and called The "Berlin Heart." There were 17 institutions in North America and Europe involved in the study, which was led by doctors in Houston, at Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Children's Hospital. A number of young lives were saved during the test period that began in 2007.

Sixteen-year-old Marco Murguia can now play basketball and live a normal life.

But in early 2007, when he was ten, his mother, Connie Murguia, noticed he was acting sluggish and took him to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.

"His heart wouldn't pump enough blood and he was pale," she recalls.

Doctors said Marco had a failing heart and put him on a list for a transplant. But the wait for a child's heart can be very long, and Marco spent three months on the Berlin Heart.

Using pumps that match the patient's size, this device assists the ailing heart with tubes attached through the chest.

Doctor Charles Fraser, chief surgeon at Texas Children's Hospital, was the principal investigator in the newly-released study of this so-called Pediatric Ventricular Assist Device.

"Our hearts are designed to inject the amount of blood that our body needs, so this pump is designed to be commensurate in size to the patient," he explains.

Usually, children who need a heart transplant are kept alive, but sedated and immobile - and for only a matter of weeks. But with the Berlin heart, patients remain awake while the pump keeps them alive for as long as 192 days.

“Blood going through the valve into the pumping chamber pumps through the valve - these are one-way valves, the blood can only go in the direction of the arrows, back to the body," said Doctor Charles Fraser.

Dr. Fraser first used the Berlin Heart seven years ago on a tiny infant.

"This patient was dying. We were able to support him with the device, actually a device this size. He subsequently achieved a cardiac transplant, and he is doing great," he said.

Though the study found that around 30 percent of patients using this device suffered mild strokes, Dr. Fraser said that risk is acceptable, given the much higher survival rate the pump achieves.

“The children who get listed for a heart transplant - if they do not get a heart transplant, they are not going to make it," he said.

Dr. Fraser hopes further study will lead to even better devices so that children like Marco Murguia can survive and enjoy active, healthy lives.
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