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World's smallest artificial heart saves a baby

Published time: May 24, 2012 17:33
Edited time: May 25, 2012 14:04
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)

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 smallest artificial heart in the world, weighing only 11 grams, was enough to save life of an infant boy suffering a deadly disease. Italian doctors who completed the surgery say it kept the baby alive till a donor was found.

­This is the first time that such a small heart has been implanted to human. The boy suffered from dilated myocardiopathy, a disease which eventually would atrophy the heart muscle and stop its ability to pump blood.

The operation was carried out at the end of March, but only now, when doctors may say with confidence that it was a success, was it made public.

The baby, whose identity has not been disclosed, was able to survive for 13 days with the artificial heart before receiving an actual heart transplant.

"At present, at more than one month from the surgery, the infant is in good health," surgeon Antonio Amodeo from Rome's Bambino Gesu hospital said.

Italian heart surgeon Antonio Amodeo holds a tiny titanium pump at the Bambino Gesu′ Hospital in Rome May 24, 2012 (Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi)
Italian heart surgeon Antonio Amodeo holds a tiny titanium pump at the Bambino Gesu' Hospital in Rome May 24, 2012 (Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi)

­The little patient has been fighting for his life since the first month. Before the implant, the child had a mechanical pump and was suffering from an infection around the device.

"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," Amodeo 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 conducting the surgery.
"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 are convinced that the success of the operation could lead to the artificial heart becoming a permanent transplant option in the future.

“This is a milestone because it can be possible now to have permanent implantable devices," Amodeo said.