Girl lives 118 days without a heart
Pumps sustain her amid transplants
MIAMI - D'Zhana Simmons says she felt like a "fake person" for 118 days when she had no heart beating in her chest.
"But I know that I really was here," the 14-year-old said, "and I did live without a heart."
As she was being released yesterday from a Miami hospital, the shy teen seemed in awe of what she's endured. Since July, she's had two heart transplants and survived with artificial heart pumps - but no heart - for four months between the transplants.
Last spring D'Zhana and her parents learned she had an enlarged heart that was too weak to sufficiently pump blood. They traveled from their home in Clinton, S.C., to Holtz Children's Hospital in Miami for a heart transplant.
But her new heart didn't work properly and could have ruptured, so surgeons removed it two days later.
And they did something unusual, especially for a young patient: They replaced the heart with a pair of artificial pumping devices that kept blood flowing through her body until she could have a second transplant.
Dr. Peter Wearden, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh who works with the kind of pumps used in this case, said what the Miami medical team managed to do "is a big deal."
"For [more than] 100 days, there was no heart in this girl's body? That is pretty amazing," Wearden said.
The pumps, ventricular assist devices, are typically used with a heart still in place to help the chambers circulate blood. With D'Zhana's heart removed, doctors at Holtz Children's Hospital crafted substitute heart chambers using a fabric and connected these to the two pumps.
Although artificial hearts have been approved for adults, none has been federally approved for use in children.
In general, there are fewer options for pediatric patients. That's because it's rarer for them to have these life-threatening conditions, so companies don't invest as much into technology that could help them, said Dr. Marco Ricci, director of pediatric cardiac surgery at the University of Miami.
He said this case demonstrates that doctors now have one more option.
"In the past, this situation could have been lethal," Ricci said.