Toddler Becomes Youngest in World Implanted with Artificial Lung

Missouri toddler is first in U.S., youngest worldwide to receive artificial lung

ByABC News
August 25, 2010, 1:03 PM

— August 26, 2010 -- Justin and Tonya Stark of Eldon, MO., thought their toddler Owen's fever and fussiness were just signs of a mid-June cold -- until Owen collapsed while on a family shopping trip to Toys 'R Us.

Owen was airlifted from a local hospital to St. Louis Children's Hospital, near death from heart and lung failure.

"We put Owen on a heart-lung machine, also called an ECMO," said Dr. Mark Grady, pediatric cardiologist at St. Louis Children's Hospital. "But it [was] not a long term answer."

Doctors diagnosed Owen, who was one-year-old at the time, with pulmonary arterial hypertension -- a disease where vessels from the lung to the heart are so constricted that blood flow grows more difficult. If left untreated, high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs can eventually lead to heart failure. Lung infections may be one trigger for hypertension, but for many like Owen, the cause is unknown.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension among children is relatively rare, affecting about 10 out of every one million children in the U.S., according to the Pulmonary Hypertension Association. The disease is more commonly found in adult women.

"[Doctors] told us Owen was in the worst condition they'd ever seen from hypertension and that night they said his outcome was not good," said Owen's father.

Doctors thought that medications may not work as a long-term solution at Owen's stage of the disease, Grady said. And with time waning on ECMO, they decided Owen needed a new lung. But that was also problematic.

"In the past we saw that children on the heart-lung machine who receive lung transplants do terribly," said Grady.

"We were told to keep in mind when enough is enough – and we thought about that a lot," said Stark. "We had to discuss when we thought we had done enough [for Owen]."