Health Team

Tiny heart pump helps babies, children stay alive

The Berlin Heart pumps blood in babies and children with heart failure, prolonging their lives until a donor is found.

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Leanny Rodriguez is an active 4-year-old.

But as a baby, heart failure had her fighting for her life.

"She was getting worse and worse," her mother, Suany Rodriguez, said. "They say she won't make it to wait for a heart transplant because she's getting sicker."

The wait for a new heart could be months.

So doctors at Texas Children's Hospital gave Leanny a device called the Berlin Heart. It pumped blood through her body while she waited for a donor heart to become available.

A new study shows the device provides a life-saving option for babies and small children with serious heart failure.

"In those patients that were enrolled in the study, more than 90 percent of them survived to receive a heart transplant or recover," said Dr. Charles Fraser Jr., surgeon-in-chief at Texas Children's Hospital.

Several thousand children develop serious heart failure every year in the U.S. Right now, there aren't many options out there for those waiting for a transplant.

Researchers say some patients recovered enough that their heart pumped blood on its own after they stopped using the device.

"We did have some in the study achieve that.," Fraser said. "And that, of course, is the best scenario."

Researchers caution that some children can suffer serious side effects, including major bleeding, infection and stroke.

But Leanny had no problems. She used the device for five months before she finally got a new heart three years ago – and she's doing great.

Her mom is grateful the Berlin heart gave her daughter a chance to live.

"She loves outdoors a lot and she does mostly everything any other kid can do," Suanny Rodriguez said.


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