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Progress Made Against Once-Fatal Heart Defect
Date:5/26/2010

Implanted devices help babies survive, thrive into adulthood, study shows

WEDNESDAY, May 26 (HealthDay News) - A congenital heart defect that was typically fatal three decades ago is no longer so deadly, thanks to new technologies and surgical techniques that allow babies to survive well into adulthood, researchers report.

A study in the May 27 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine compares the effectiveness of older and newer versions of devices aimed at fixing incompletely formed hearts. The study finds both performing equally well over three years.

It's a "landmark" study, "one that we've never had before in congenital heart disease," said Dr. Gail D. Pearson, director of the Adult and Pediatric Cardiac Research Program at the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which financed the effort.

The study, which compared two devices for keeping oxygen-carrying blood flowing in 549 children born with hearts incapable of doing it alone, has not yet produced definitive results favoring one device over the other. But the research is really just beginning.

"Continuing follow-up will help us sort out the near- and long-term results," Pearson said.

Study author Dr. Richard G. Ohye, head of the University of Michigan pediatric cardiovascular surgery division, agreed. "Well be able to follow them to adulthood, and they will educate us about the best way to manage them," he said.

The children in the study were born with hearts that had a nonfunctioning -- or nonexistent -- left ventricle, the chamber that pumps blood to the body. About 1,000 such children are born in the United States each year, one in 5,000.

Classically, they were fated for quick death. But about 30 years ago, Dr. William Norwood of the Boston Children's Hospital developed a procedure in which a shunt is implanted so that blood can flow from the heart to the lungs, where it picks up enough oxygen
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