Health & Science

Cardiac-Assist Pump Will Help Kids Who Need Transplant

Heart surgeons who care for children are hailing the arrival of a new child-sized blood pump. They say that babies and kids who are waiting for a heart transplant now have a fighting chance, just like adults.

The good news is that most children with heart problems can be helped. Holes in the heart can be sewn up, and medicines can help weak heart muscle recover. But Dr. Charles Fraser, the hospital’s chief surgeon, says some babies and kids will need a transplant.

Emily Ochoa cradles Dahlia
Emily Ochoa cradles her daughter, Dahlia. The four-month-old is tethered to the Berlin Heart Excor, which helps her weakened left ventricle pump blood. She is waiting for transplant of an infant-sized donor heart.

One of them is four-month old Dahlia Ochoa, who came here from Vidor.

“She was just languishing as a little baby. She couldn’t feed well, she was sweaty, just looked unwell, very pale.”

Dahia’s mom is Emily Ochoa.

“It was pretty devastating that she would need such a serious operation in order to live.”

The shortage of donor hearts is bad for adults, but even worse for children. One out of four babies who are waiting for a heart transplant will die while waiting.

“The clock is ticking, patient’s going downhill, we’re desperately awaiting a heart transplant.”

Adults who are waiting have been able to use temporary pumps that help circulate blood. But Fraser says doctors could do little for pediatric patients – until now.

power console
A power console contains the air compressor that pumps the Excor. A laptop directs and records heart rate and pressure.



Last month the Food and Drug Administration approved a mechanical heart pump for children, known as the Berlin Heart Excor.

“We’re very excited about it. We’re really thrilled and gratified and relieved.”

The device was developed in Berlin and costs about $80,000. It hangs outside the body, attached to the major blood vessels by clear tubes. An air-driven pump pushes the blood along.

Again, Emily Ochoa:

“She’s off the ventilator, and I can hold her and I can play with her and she’s doing pretty good.”

Dr. Fraser led a nationwide trial of the new pump. The trial found that two-thirds of children using the Berlin Heart survived to get a transplant, or they recovered.

One big advantage is the pump allows children to be awake, play, eat and just develop as kids.



Dahlia must remain tethered to the air pump, but her mother can hold her. Children have learned to crawl and walk while on the Berlin Heart device.


Laura Ward is a nurse at Texas Children’s.

She uses a small flashlight to check for clots in Dahlia’s pump.

“And then we also with this mirror we check to make sure it’s filling all the way and it’s ejecting all the way. And it looks really good. It looks great, Dahlia.”

Dahlia got the pump two months ago. And it could take many more months before she gets a transplant.

“So, it’s been too long. Say ‘We need our new heart.’ Don’t we, Dahlia? Yeah. ‘Say, where is that new heart?’”

From the KUHF Health and Science Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.