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Health Beat: World's smallest heart pump

Published On: Mar 15 2013 10:31:26 AM EDT   Updated On: Mar 18 2013 04:59:08 PM EDT

Health Beat: Smallest Heart Pump

When a child's heart fails, a transplant is often the only hope. But to keep kids alive while they wait, doctors often use artificial pumps. Some, however, are too big, and some require major surgery.

Now, there's a new device that's changing the game for some of the world's smallest patients. It's called the "Impella," and it's designed to be a temporary device. 

Right now, it's FDA approved for up to six hours in adults and, for kids, it's being used off-label for up to seven days.


Sisters Emily and Shayde Smith both suffer from a serious heart condition known as restrictive cardiomyopathy.

Four years ago, little sister Emily had a transplant to replace her failing heart, but her body started to reject the donor heart a couple months ago.

"We had to determine a way to support Emily as quickly as possible, or we were worried that we were going to lose her," said Dr. Vivian Dimas, an interventional cardiologist at Children’s Medical Center at Dallas.

Doctors used the world’s smallest heart pump to keep Emily alive.

Instead of major open-heart surgery, the Impella is inserted through an artery in the leg.  A catheter pulls the blood out of the heart’s left ventricle and ejects it to the aorta so the heart can pump blood.

Emily used the device for five days.   

"If we wouldn’t have had that, she wouldn’t have made it," explained Natalie Van Noy, the girls' mother.

Emily ended up getting a second heart transplant.

Now, Shayde needs a transplant, too. 

"It’s pretty scary to know I have to go through exactly the same thing that she is," said Shayde.

The girls, though, are close and plan to always be there for each other.

The pump can be used for patients as young as nine, but doctors are working on an even smaller pump that they hope can help patients as young as three.

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DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Vivian Dimas about the world's smallest heart pump