Doctors save premature baby with life-threatening heart condition without surgery

Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 2:00 PM CDT
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(KPLC) - Forty-thousand babies a year are born with congenital heart disease, and about 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.

”PDA – or patent ductus arteriosus – it’s a vessel that all of us, yourself included, had when you’re inside of your mother, and once you came out, it actually closed on its own,” interventional cardiologist Dr. Allen Ligon said.

The PDA connects the big arteries that come off of the heart and goes into the lungs and body. But for some babies, the PDA doesn’t close.

“It’s incredibly common for babies who are born too early, or premature babies, for that vessel to stay open,” Ligon said.

If this happens, it can steal blood flow from other organs and cause an enlarged heart. Without surgery, these babies’ lives are at risk.

That is why it was necessary for Dr. Ligon to perform a heart vessel closure on a preemie born at 22 weeks, weighing just 1.1 pounds, the same weight as a glass of water.

“You can imagine a 1-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, the doctor delivered a PDA closure device up through the heart inside the PDA. The PDA creates a controlled clot that closes the vessel.

Six days after the procedure, the tiny baby girl was off blood pressure meds, off the ventilator, and gaining weight.

“She’s above a year of age now, and it’s exciting how well she’s doing,” Ligon said.

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