A one-year old baby girl surnamed Lee stopped breathing all of a sudden. Naturally, her parents panicked. This happened in December last year. When she was born in February, Lee was diagnosed with a symptom called congenital dilated cardiomyopathy. She would pant sometimes, but she had never stopped breathing like that before. The baby was immediately transferred to the emergency treatment center of Severance Hospital. Her symptom had deteriorated, cutting the cardiac function of her left ventricle to below 5 percent. She could not pump the blood from the heart to the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
Doctors figured out a procedure to save her life where an ECMO is attached to replace the functions of her heart and lungs to keep her breathing. This meant that she needed a transplant or an artificial heart. Transplant was nearly impossible. The organ must come from brain-dead patients, but it is rare to find a donor around her age, making the wait almost meaningless.
The medical team led by Park Young-hwan, a cardiovascular physician, and Jeong Jo-won, a pediatric cardiologist, tried the external transplantation of an artificial aid heart for her. It is a device designed to replace the left ventricle by channeling the blood flow into the main artery like a water pump. However, the procedure had only been tried with adult patients, and more of a temporary life-support system before a heart transplant, so they were unsure whether a baby girl weighing only 6.5 kilograms would survive it.
The surgery was successful. Her cardiac functions improved gradually after receiving the artificial aid heart, and swelling was also alleviated. She started to walk, and her digestion capacity recovered as well. Her weight grew to 9 kilograms, and by the end of June, her heart was beating without any problem even after removing all the aid devices.
“This is the first case in which an artificial aid heart served as more than a temporary device but part of a fundamental treatment,” said Professor Park. “In May, we successfully transplanted an artificial aid heart inside the body of a 14-year-old girl.” Fully recovered, the girl was discharged from hospital on July 6.
Youn-Jong Kim email@example.com