(Reuters) – Italian doctors have saved the life of a
16-month-old boy by implanting the world’s smallest artificial heart to keep the infant alive until a
donor was found for a transplant.
The doctors at Rome’s Bambino Gesu hospital said the operation was carried out
last month and made public this week. The baby, whose identity has not been disclosed, was kept alive
for 13 days before the transplant and is now doing well.
The baby was suffering from dilated
myocardiopathy, a heart muscle disease which normally causes stretched or enlarged fibers of the heart.
The disease gradually makes the heart weaker, stopping its ability to pump blood
“This is a milestone,” surgeon Antonio Amodeo told Reuters television, adding that
while the device was now used as bridge leading to a transplant, in the future it could be
Before the implant, the child also had a serious infection around a mechanical pump
that had been fitted earlier to support the function of his natural heart.
“From a surgical
point of view, this was not really difficult. The only difficulty that we met is that the child was
operated on several times before,” he said.
The tiny titanium pump weighs only 11 grams and can
handle a blood flow of 1.5 liters a minute. An artificial heart for adults weighs 900
Amodeo said the baby had become family and his team wanted to do everything to help
“The patient was in our intensive care unit since one month of age. So he was a mascot for
us, he was one of us,” the doctor said.
“Every day, every hour, for more than one year he was
with us. So when we had a problem we couldn’t do anything more than our best,” he said.
said the device, invented by American Doctor Robert Jarvik, had been previously tested only on
The hospital needed special permission from Jarvik and the Italian health ministry
before going ahead with the procedure.
(Writing by Philip
Pullella; Editing by Jon Hemming)