LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Giving a bear hug to his surgeon and a thumbs-up to other hospital staff, a 14-year-old boy went home for Christmas – the first child to receive a new heart after relying on a newly developed miniature heart pump.
“This is a good feeling. It’s nice to win one,” surgical assistant Carl Chipman said as Travis Marcus and his family left Arkansas Children’s Hospital headed home to Cabot.
Born with a congenital heart defect, Travis had several operations since birth. His parents, who had recently moved from Wisconsin, took him to the hospital Sept. 5 for a routine procedure, but learned he had developed severe problems.
The boy was placed on a heart-lung bypass machine and placed on a transplant list. But doctors said the bypass machine damages a patient’s organs and increases the risk of stroke and bleeding.
Doctors later decided to implant the miniature pump – the DeBakey Child Ventricular Assist Device. Though only used in one other child, who did not survive, doctors decided they had no other option to keep Travis healthy long enough to receive a transplant.
The device was developed by 96-year-old Houston heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, considered the father of modern cardiovascular surgery. DeBakey flew to Little Rock to visit Travis and his family during the procedure.
Dr. Jonathan Drummond-Webb implanted the device in the teen’s heart Sept. 16 – and two months later gave him a new heart. Drummond-Webb said the DeBakey device saved Travis’ life.
“Without the device, he would have been dead. That’s the bottom line,” he said.
On Christmas Eve, Travis planned to help his sisters bake Christmas cookies.
“We bake every year, but this year it’s special. He’s been looking forward to it,” said his sister Tonya, 19. She said they would decorate sugar cookies and make peanut butter cookies with chocolate kisses in the middle.
Pediatric cardiologist Paul Seib was elated at the happy ending.
“We see kids who are desperately ill here all the time and we always fear they aren’t going to make it,” Seib said. Travis “was desperately ill and thank God for the DeBakey device and Jonathan’s skills and his whole team and his expertise and this family.”
Made of titanium and plastic, the 1-by-3-inch, 4-ounce device differs from other heart pumps in that the DeBakey device – with the tubing that carries the blood – fits inside the patient’s chest and is powered by an external battery pack. In other designs, the tubing or both the pump and tubing sit outside the body.
More than 240 DeBakey VADs have been implanted in adults. MicroMed Technology Inc. of Houston modified the device for use in children; the government gave it a humanitarian exemption for its use in children.