Surgeons implant world’s smallest artificial heart into toddler

25 May 2012

A titanium pump weighing a mere 11 grams kept a 16-month-old boy alive for 13 days until he received a real heart transplant.

“In March, the smallest artificial heart in the world was implanted at the Bambino Gesù Hospital in Rome,” surgeon Antonio Amodeo said in a statement.

“The device, a titanium pump weighing only 11 grams and that can endure a (blood) flow of up to 1.5 litres per minute, was used in an emergency case of a 16-month-old infant suffering from dilated myocardiopathy with a serious infection of the ventricular assistance device that had been implanted previously.”

Dilated myocardiopathy is a disease that normally causes fibres of the heart to stretch and become enlarged, so the heart can no longer pump blood efficiently.

The boy, who received the real heart transplant more than a month ago, is in good health, a statement from the hospital said.

Amodeo told Reuters television the implant of the titanium pump was a milestone. Even though the device is now a bridge to a transplant, Amodeo added, it could be permanent in the future.

American doctor Robert Jarvik is the inventor of the device, which had been previously only tested on animals.

Bambino Gesù hospital required special permission from Jarvik and Italy’s health ministry before implanting the device in the boy.

Image of surgeons at work via Shutterstock

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic