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Italy doctors save baby with smallest artificial heart

(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.

An Italian heart surgeon holds a 

tiny titanium pump, the world's smallest artificial heart, which was implanted in a baby, at the 

Bambino Gesu' Hospital in Rome May 24, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

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

effectively.

“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

permanent.

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

grams.

Amodeo said the baby had become family and his team wanted to do everything to help

him.

“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.

Doctors

said the device, invented by American Doctor Robert Jarvik, had been previously tested only on

animals.

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)

 

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Italy doctors save baby with smallest artificial heart