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Saved his life after heart failure

First pediatric patient in U.S. receives temporary artificial heart

by Lauren Dubinsky , Senior Reporter
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago has become the first medical facility in the U.S. to implant the 50 cc SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart in a pediatric patient.

Eleven-year-old Jaheim Whigham was born with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome that left him with only one working heart chamber.

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He received his first heart transplant in 2012 but during a routine check-up in October 2016, tests showed that his body was rejecting the donor heart and that he was in heart failure.

He was immediately admitted to the hospital to be treated and several weeks later his organs began to fail. On December 1, 2016, the cardiac surgeons at Lurie Children's removed the donor heart and implanted the 50 cc Total Artificial Heart.

With the exception of two small tubes which exit the body and go to an external driver, the entire device is implanted, according to Dr. Carl Backer, division head of cardiovascular surgery at the hospital.

Since undergoing that operation, Backer reports that Whigham's other organs have recovered nicely and he has been placed on the list for a heart transplant.

When a patient's body becomes frail, a heart transplant becomes a greater risk. Since the artificial heart is making him stronger, he's now a better candidate for a transplant.

The artificial heart replaces both failing heart ventricles and the four heart valves, just like a heart transplant. But unlike a donor heart, the artificial one can't be rejected by the body and is immediately available at SynCardia Certified Centers.

The 50 cc Total Artificial Heart is a smaller version of SynCardia's 70 cc Total Artificial Heart, which received FDA approval in 2004. The smaller version is designed to fit women, men of smaller stature and children.

In the U.S., the 50 cc Total Artificial Heart is still an investigational device and is limited by federal law to investigational use only.

Whigham was recently switched from the Companion 2 hospital driver, which powers the artificial heart, to the smaller Freedom portable driver. It can be worn as either a backpack or shoulder bag.

In a press conference held on January 17, a room full of people were brought to tears as Whigham hugged his younger brother Raheim for the first time since the implant surgery.

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