New heart surgery saves tiny baby

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Matias Abril
Published: Updated:

Every year, 40,000 babies are born with congenital heart disease.

About 1 in 4 of those infants has a life-threatening condition that affects how the heart is shaped, how it works, or both.

Now, for the first time, doctors have been able to perform a life-saving heart procedure on one of the smallest infants in the nation.

“PDA – or patent ductus arteriosus – is a vessel that all of us, yourself included, had when you’re inside of your mother, and once you came out, it actually closed on its own,” said Dr. R. Allen Ligon, Congenital Interventional Cardiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

The PDA connects the big arteries that come off of the heart and goes into the lungs and body. But for some babies, the PDA doesn’t close.

“It’s incredibly common for babies who are born too early, or premature babies, for that vessel to stay open,” Ligon said.

If this happens, it can steal blood flow from other organs and cause an enlarged heart. Without surgery, these babies’ lives are at risk. That’s why it was necessary for Ligon to perform a heart vessel closure on a preemie born at 22 weeks, weighing just 1.1 pounds, the same weight as one glass of water.

“You can imagine a one-pound infant’s fist and how small it is. That’s how small her heart is,” Ligon said.

Snaking a catheter in the baby’s leg, the doctor delivered a PDA closure device up through the heart inside the PDA. The PDA creates a controlled clot that closes the vessel. Six days after the procedure, the tiny baby girl was off blood pressure meds, off the ventilator, and gaining weight.

And today…

“She’s above a year of age now, and it’s exciting how well she’s doing,” Ligon said.

The PDA closure device will never have to be removed. As the little girl grows, the tissue will grow over the PDA closure device and will become part of her body.

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