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Mechanical Device Helps Kids Waiting for Heart Transplant
Date:8/8/2012

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Adults have been able to get mechanical help to keep their hearts beating while they're waiting for a heart transplant for about 20 years, but until recently, children whose hearts were failing had few options.

New research has shown, however, that a new device called the Excor pediatric ventricular assist device (or Berlin Heart) often can help the youngest heart-failure patients live long enough to receive a heart transplant. In the past, the only available treatment for those children -- who would otherwise die waiting for a heart -- could keep them alive only about two to three weeks. In the current study, the longest a child lived on the new ventricular assist device was 192 days.

"I don't think any of us predicted the results would be as good as they were," said the study's lead author, Dr. Charles Fraser Jr., surgeon-in-chief at Texas Children's Hospital and a distinguished professor and chairman of congenital heart surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"Ninety percent of these children survived or made it to transplant ... and these were kids who were dying," he said. "It's really striking when you look at the survival curves, not to mention the effect on quality of life and the ability to become ambulatory again."

Results of the study, which was funded by Berlin Heart (the German device maker) and a grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Orphan Product Development, are published in the Aug. 9 New England Journal of Medicine. The FDA approved the device for pediatric use in December 2011.

Before the pediatric ventricular assist device, the only option to keep alive a child who was dying of heart failure was a procedure known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

"ECMO is a pretty precarious arrangement," Fraser said.

It involves tubes in the heart, chest
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