Ventricular Assist Device May Offer Hope for Youngest Heart Patients

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"What was just amazing to us was here ability to recover with the Berlin… to watch her over the next days and weeks to start talking, eating, and eventually walking," she said.

Avery was able to get stronger, and 52 days later a suitable donor was found. Avery received a new heart -- one doctors say she would not have survived long enough to get had it not been for her VAD.

"Before the Berlin heart was available there is no question that [Avery] would have not survived," said Dr. Christopher Almond, a cardiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and senior author on the New England Journal of Medicine study.

"For her, there is no question that the Berlin Heart is life saving."

Whether such devices will be available to other kids who could potentially benefit from them depends on research that will commence next year. This is when four new types of pediatric VAD devices will become available in clinical trials through a program called Pumps for Kids, Infants, and Neonates -- also known as PumpKIN.

"Our hope as practitioners in this field is that this [data] will turn up the RPMs on devices in this field and that we develop more devices," Fraser said.

But new devices alone will not solve the problem.

"[I]f we could improve donor awareness we would be able to shorten the waiting time for a heart and perhaps we would not get into a situation where the child is getting sicker and needs a VAD while waiting," said Dr. Daphne Hsu, co-director of the Pediatric Heart Center at Montefiore.

Avery, now 8, starts second grade this September. Monday marked the three-year anniversary of the day she received the donated heart of a little boy named Dalton Lawyer, who was hit by a car and killed while riding his bike.

Since then, the Tooles and the Lawyers have become close friends.

"It's a very special, unique relationship," said Cheryl. "It's just wonderful."

Three years after receiving the donated heart that now beats in her chest, Avery plays t-ball, swims and runs. She just returned from a 12-day sleep-away camp designed specially for children who have had open heart surgery.

"You would never know by meeting her that anything was the matter," Cheryl Toole said.

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