It was a year ago that McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
faculty member Peter Wearden, MD, PhD (pictured), Assistant Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, experienced a miracle. In December 2008, pediatric patient Ethan Gradowski arrived at Children’s for a routine heart procedure—to repair a hole between the top chambers of his heart. The surgery is normally low-risk and the young patient is out of the hospital in 3 to 4 days. Although Ethan’s surgery went well, complications arose.
"Ethan's coronary arteries went into a severe spasm that caused him to have multiple heart attacks," Dr. Wearden said to KDKA’s Brenda Waters. Ethan's heart stopped twice and he had several strokes. "It was apparent to us at least at that time that Ethan would need a heart transplant," he said.
The 2-year-old was placed on a heart-lung machine and later on a pediatric heart pump called the Berlin Heart. The Berlin Heart is an experimental, child-size artificial heart pump—or ventricular assist device (VAD)—that keeps children with life-threatening heart failure alive while awaiting a heart transplant. Then things turned around.
"His heart started to look like it was working better," Dr. Wearden recalled. "With the next echocardiogram, it looked like a little better, the next one it looked a little better and so we started talking amongst ourselves, 'Maybe his heart is recovering.'"
Dr. Wearden is part of a team of medical professionals at Children’s who are using advanced and innovative technologies to perform life-saving procedures on children in need of cardiac support. In adults, when supplemental cardiac support is needed as an interim measure, surgeons may elect to implant an artificial heart pump.
The pumps that work for adults are not suitable for infants and children. Dr. Wearden has successfully used the Berlin Heart, which is undergoing a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluation trial at Children’s and 14 other hospitals nationwide. Currently, the Berlin Heart is the only heart-assist device currently available for babies and children. Because it does not have FDA approval for routine use, it must be approved on a case-by-case “compassionate use” basis for cases that are outside of the clinical trial parameters.
However, another device option may become available to the tiniest-of-patients population. Dr. Wearden has a leadership role in an on-going research study to develop a miniaturized heart pump for children—the implantable pediatric VAD known as the PediaFlow.
PediaFlow is designed for children from birth to 2 years. The heart pump, the size of a AA battery, will use a magnetically levitated impeller, technology that increases the life span of the pump, reduces the electrical power and cooling requirements, and drastically reduces blood damage and clotting. PediaFlow is designed to go inside a child’s body to minimize the risks of infection from tubes piercing the skin. It is now in a preclinical trial and the availability for human trials is subject to the results of the current studies.
A year later, Ethan is a happy, healthy, active 3-year-old. "Miracles do happen, healing happens and don't give up hope, don't ever give up on your child," Cindy Gradowski, Ethan’s mother said.
"Because I don't have a medical explanation for this, I guess I would have to consider it a miracle as well," Dr. Wearden said.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
KDKA w/video (12/15/09)
Regenerative Medicine Today – Dr. Peter Wearden, Dr. Joel and Cindy Gradowski
Spotlight Series: Emerging Technology--Miniaturized Heart Pumps for Children:
Part 1 of 3
Part 2 of 3
Part 3 of 3
Bio: Dr. Peter Wearden