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Health Spotlight: Fixing a preemie’s failing heart – without surgery

Health Spotlight: Fixing a preemie’s failing heart – without surgery

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Doctors say 40,000 babies are born with congenital heart disease every year.

Nearly one in four of those infants has a life-threatening condition that affects how the heart is shaped, how it works, or both.

Now, for the first time, doctors have been able to perform a life-saving heart procedure on one of the smallest infants in the nation.

The patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA, is a vessel in the heart that everyone is born with. It connects the big arteries that come off the heart and go into the lungs and body. For some infants, it doesn’t close.

Dr. R. Allen Ligon, Jr., a congenital interventional cardiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, says the vessel actually closes on its own, but it is “incredibly common” for babies born too early for the PDA to stay open.

If the PDA remains open, it can steal blood flow from other organs and cause an enlarged heart. Without surgery, those babies’ lives are at risk.

Ligon says this risk made it necessary to close the heart vessel on a premature baby girl born at 22 weeks. The child only weighed 1.1 lbs, approximately the same weight as a glass of water.

“You can imagine a one-pound infant’s fist and how small it is – that’s how small her heart is,” Ligon said.

Snaking a catheter in the baby’s leg, Ligon delivered a PDA closure device through the heart inside the vessel. The PDA then creates a controlled clot that closes the vessel.

Six days after the procedure, the infant was done with blood pressure meds, off the ventilator, and gaining weight.

The closure device will never have to be removed. As the little girl grows, the tissue will grow over the PDA closure device and become part of her body.

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV. Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network.