Surgeons at the University of Michigan Health System have successfully implanted the first DeBakey ventricular assist device in a child in the United States. The 10-year-old girl, who celebrated her 11th birthday three days after the operation, is the youngest in the world to receive the device.

Doctors feared that the young girl, who suffers from a heart disease called idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, would not live long enough to receive a new heart, said Eric Devaney, an assistant professor of surgery at the UMHS.

“All other forms of treatment were deemed ineffective for a person her size,” Devaney, who led the surgery, said. “We didn’t think she would survive until a transplant was available.”

While the girl – whose name is not being released – is still waiting for a transplant, Devaney said that she is now doing well, able to move around easily and maintain her health.

Designed for end-stage heart failure patients awaiting transplant, the DeBakey VAD is implanted in the chest cavity and attached to the heart to help pump blood. Devaney said that instead of delivering pulsiple flow like most heart pumps – flow that pumps with the heartbeat – this device offers continual flow. He added that the miniature pump, measuring 1 inch by 3 inches and weighing only four ounces, was ideal for the small patient.

The DeBakey VAD is one-tenth the size of the heart-assist devices currently on the market and designed to treat those with smaller body types, such as petite women and children.

“It affords more flexibility for us surgeons. Many such devices are very large and can’t be implanted entirely in the body,” Devaney said. “All that comes out with this is a wire that connects to a power source.”

He added the device should last about a year, but he did not expect to have to wait that long for a heart transplant for the young patient.

“Her battle isn’t over – this is just a bridge to a heart transplant,” Devaney said.

The DeBakey VAD is in its third phase of clinical trials in the country and completion of the trials is expected in early 2004, according to MicroMed Technology, Inc. who makes the device.

It was approved in Europe in 2001 and, according to Devaney, has been used on children as young as 12.

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