Living temporarily without a heart

September 3, 2009 3:12:08 PM PDT
In the United States, about 30,000 children have a dangerously enlarged heart. More children die from the condition than cancer, but there has been little done to improve the odds. Outcomes are the same today as they were 30 years ago. One teenager with an enlarged heart has made history as she fought for her life.Only 15 years old, D'Zhana Simmons says she feels lucky to be alive.

"Basically, I was a miracle child," D'Zhana said.

"Nobody on the face of this earth has a reason to worry that there's not a God up above who takes care of you," said D'Zhana's mother Twolla Anderson.

Last summer, D'Zhana was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy -- a dangerously enlarged heart.

"Her heart failure was so severe that she had no other choice but a heart transplant," said Dr.Marco Ricci, a pediatric cardiac surgeon at Holtz Children's Hospital in Miami.

She got that transplant after only a week on the waiting list, but the heart failed.

"It was scary," D'Zhana said.

While she waited for a second heart, Dr. Ricci and his team at Holtz Children's Hospital kept her alive with a heart assist machine.

"Normally, the machine is connected to the heart," Dr. Ricci said. "In her case, the heart was removed, so the machine had to be connected to the blood vessels."

D'Zhana walked the halls of the hospital with no heart as the machine pumped life through her body.

"It had never been done in a pediatric patient," Dr. Ricci said.

D'Zhana lived without a heart for 118 days until a second one became available.

"I'm very thankful," D'Zhana said.

The second transplant was a success, and D'Zhana's family can finally look toward the future without fear.

"I think she'll be able to accomplish anything she sets her mind to," mom Twolla said.

She's a teen taking on a new phase of her life with a new, improved heart.

D'Zhana's transplanted heart is working fine. Dr. Ricci does not believe she'd be alive if they had not tried this new approach. He knows of only two adults this has ever been tried on, but neither lived as long on the machine with no heart as D'Zhana did.

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