Nov. 19, 2003 -- When 2-year-old Chance Collins was suffering from severe lung problems, pediatricians at an Arkansas hospital nearly floored his parents with the treatment they chose to help him breathe better: Viagra.
Chance, whose breathing problems stem from being born three months prematurely, isn't the only young patient to benefit from the impotence-treatment drug designed to rekindle men's sex lives.
For about the past year, some pediatricians from around the country have been using the drug to treat infants with breathing problems, and reporting great success, said Dr. Jerrill Green, a critical care specialist who treated Chance at the Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock.
The treatment is used for premature babies with chronic lung disease or who have cardiac problems and suffer from pulmonary hypertension, which can leave them in a life-or-death situation.
"The Viagra opens up the arteries in these children's lungs, allowing blood to flow in more easily," Green said. It also helps lower their high blood pressure, which is caused by their hearts' having to overwork, and it increases oxygen flow to the lungs, he said.
Children's Hospital in Boston first used Viagra on an infant with heart disease and pulmonary hypertension in 1998. Doctors there were looking for a way to allow the child to breathe on her own without using nitric oxide gas, which is produced naturally by the body and known to relax blood vessels in the lungs.
Did You Say Viagra?
Chance's parents, Candace and Ronnie Collins, have spent the past two years checking Chance in and out of hospitals because of his breathing problems, so they are used to talking to doctors. But they were perplexed when Green told them that he was giving Chance Viagra.
"It was quite a shock," Candace Collins said. "I started asking 'Why you would use that on a 2 year-old?'"
Despite being surprised, parents of children with breathing problems agree to the treatment because the youngsters are so sick, Green said.
"It's unusual, but not controversial, since we understand how it works, Green said. "This is being done at other children's hospitals, not everywhere."
Drug Offers Chance Some Freedom
Five months ago, Chance had a severe pulmonary attack and has been in the hospital since. As is normal in such cases, he was given a tracheotomy, which works like a respirator and has a feeding tube attached. Even when Chance goes home a couple of months from now, he'll have to stay on the ventilator for a while. But the drug has allowed doctors to turn down his ventilator, and let the little boy leave his bed to play for the first time in months.
Chance can now actually sit up on a mat and play around with his twin sister, who does not have the same health problems. Without Viagra, doctors would have been afraid to allow Chance out of bed.
Candace says Chance's health has clearly improved since Green introduced Viagra as part of his treatment.
"He was so sick before and there were several times we thought we were going to lose him," Candace said.
Chance receives a dose of Viagra every eight hours and will be able to take a prescription home, to be dispensed by his parents, when he's ready to leave the hospital.
While it is hard to determine whether there are side effects, since Chance is on other drugs in addition to Viagra, one becomes evident during the early phases of treatment.
"When chance was first started on this, when he would get a dose of it, he would have an erection for a short time," Green said. "He gets it every day, three times a day now, so that doesn't happen anymore."
Chance will have to spend a few more months in the hospital, and he will spend time breathing through the ventilator to help his lungs grow. But because of the Viagra, his parents will be able to take him to his home, 100 miles away in Ozark, Ark.
His parents will have crush up the Viagra and give it to Chance through his feeding tube. Children like Chance receive a tiny dose compared to what an adult would take. Pharmacists crush the small blue pills and dilute the medicine in water, which is given to the tots through feeding tubes or orally.
Green said the pills have been used to treat pulmonary high blood pressure, but doctors were hesitant at first to try it on children, because they weren't sure it would work. Now that they see the results, more are trying it.