When two-year-old Michael Habbe checked into St. Louis Children’s Hospital, his family was expecting the fight of their lives. What they got, they say, was a miracle.
Michael was suffering heart failure from a congenital heart problem. He also had hypertension in his lungs. Attempts to save his life through surgery had all failed. Michael needed a heart and double-lung transplant. He needed it fast.
"Bridge" devices exist for adults. They are implants that do all the pumping for a failing heart to keep a patient alive until a suitable donor heart is available. But no such device is manufactured in the U.S. for small children.
Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, petitioned the FDA for special clearance to use a device manufactured in Germany called a Berlin heart. It’s the only pumping “bridge to transplant” made for children under five years old.
The Berlin heart sits outside the body and is connected to the heart by multiple tubes. It pumps blood to the vital organs and prolongs the time a patient can wait for a heart transplant. Because it does the work for the heart, the body doesn’t have to work so hard to keep the heart beating. That allows the patient to maintain some physical activity and be in the best shape possible when it’s time for transplant surgery.
The Berlin heart is still rare in the US, but gaining favor. It had never been used as a bridge to both a heart and lungs. It was risky, but Dr. Gandhi was out of options.
Aside from implanting the Berlin heart in Michael, Dr. Gandhi also prescribed a customized blend of medicines. Together, the treatments actually reversed Michael’s lung disease to such an extent that the lung transplant was no longer necessary.
After six weeks with the Berlin heart - and taking the medical cocktail - Michael received his new heart.
“This will change the way we do transplants,” explains Dr. Gandhi. “Kids who otherwise would not have qualified for a heart transplant can now be considered due to the success of this treatment.”
Michael, his parents and five brothers and sisters are preparing to return home to Rapid City, South Dakota.
Michael’s ready to resume the active lifestyle of a healthy two-year-old. His parents aren’t ready to forget the experimental – and successful – treatment Dr. Gandhi developed for little Michael.
In Michael’s father's words - "Dr. Gandhi moved mountains to save my child."