MONDAY, May 15, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers say that ventricular assist devices (VADs) -- mechanical pumps that maintain heart function in critically ill patients waiting for a heart transplant -- may be an option for children whose bodies are large enough to accommodate the devices, even though they're not designed specifically for kids.
"Over the last 10 years, these devices have been used in a limited number of children as a bridge to transplant," study author Dr. Elizabeth D. Blume, medical director of the heart failure/transplant program at Children's Hospital Boston, said in a prepared statement. "However, we know little about how useful these are in the pediatric population. In addition, there are limited options for smaller patients."
Blume and her colleagues reviewed the cases of 99 children in the United States who received a VAD between January 1993 and December 2003. The group included 67 boys and 32 girls, average age 13. Seventy-eight percent had a muscle heart disorder (cardiomyopathy) and 22 percent had congenital heart disease -- a heart defect that was present when they were born.
Of these patients, 78 survived to transplantation. Children with cardiomyopathy did much better using the devices than those with congenital heart disease.
Over the 10-year period in this review, 77 percent of children with VADs survived until they received a heart transplant. However, in the last three years (2000-2003), the survival rate to transplantation was 85 percent.
"Bridging over 85 percent of patients successfully is really encouraging. It shows that, despite the fact that none of these devices were designed specifically for children, a group of smaller patients can take advantage of the adult technology and do as well, if not better. It seems we are getting better at patient selection and placing these devices," Blume said.
"Another important finding is that the long-term outlook after transplant was similar in children on VAD compared to those who did not have the devices," she said.
The study appears in the May 16 issue of Circulation.
The American Heart Association has more about heart transplants in infants and children.