Eleven-year-old Jaheim Whigham of Illinois is the world’s smallest person – and one of 40 worldwide — to receive the 50cc SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH-t). This device is the smaller version of the 70cc TAH-t which received FDA approval in 2004. SynCardia designed the smaller device to fit women, men of smaller stature and adolescents like Jaheim. Lurie Children’s is the first pediatric hospital in the country to implant the new smaller version of a total artificial heart.
Jaheim, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, received his first heart transplant in 2012 when he was 7 years old. On October 19, 2016, during a routine check-up at Lurie Children’s, tests revealed he was in heart failure from rejection. He was immediately admitted to the hospital where he was treated intensively for rejection. Several weeks later, however, other organ systems began to fail. To save his life, Lurie Children’s cardiac surgeons removed his transplanted heart and implanted the 50cc SynCardia Total Artificial Heart. The surgery to implant the artificial heart took 14 hours and a team of several specialists, including cardiovascular surgeons, nurses, a perfusionist, and anesthesiologists.
“We had no other options but to implant Jaheim with the artificial heart,” says Carl Backer, MD, Attending Physician, Cardiovascular-Thoracic Surgery at Lurie Children’s and Professor of Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Since the artificial heart implant on December 1, 2016, Jaheim’s other organs have recovered nicely. He keeps getting stronger and has now been listed for a heart transplant.”
“This device is actually making him a better candidate for a transplant. Many times what happens is that a patient’s body becomes quite frail, because of the other organs that are involved
That makes a heart transplant a greater risk,” says Ann Mead, RN, CCU. “But with physical and occupational therapy and better nutrition to make him stronger, the artificial heart makes Jaheim a better candidate when a heart is available. He can already to walk around and do other things he couldn’t do before he had artificial heart transplanted.”
The SynCardia Total Artificial Heart replaces both failing heart ventricles and the four heart valves. The Total Artificial Heart restores blood flow to the body and the vital organs and eliminates complications associated with the patient’s failing heart. Previous devices have been external to the body and make it cumbersome for the patient to move around. The SynCardia Total Artificial Heart is implanted inside the chest cavity with only two small tubes connecting to an external power supply known as a driver. When patients become clinically stable, they can be switched from the external hospital driver to the Freedom portable driver which fits in a backpack and gives the patient significant mobility. Patients who meet discharge criteria can then leave the hospital to wait for matching donor hearts at home.
“We had an amazing team that helped us get through this. This was our last option, we never, ever gave up on these guys at the hospital. The best part of this whole thing is that my child is still here, thanks to the amazing team at Lurie Children’s,” says Michael Whigham, Jaheim’s father.
Lurie Children’s is now a SynCardia Certified Center and the only center in Illinois to have implanted the 50cc Total Artificial Heart. “The success of Jaheim’s implant is due to the careful training and collaboration of the cardiac intensivists, cardiologists, nurses and therapists in the Regenstein Cardiac Care Unit who are overseeing his care,” says Backer.
The Heart Center at Lurie Children’s is one of the top children’s heart center’s in the country according to USNews & World Report. On average, our heart surgeons perform 450 heart surgeries each year, with one of the best survival rates for congenital heart surgery among the nation’s 40 largest and most advanced children’s hospitals — even for heart transplants. For a third successive time, the Heart Center recently received a 3-star rating from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS), the highest rating level awarded. This 3-star rating is given to only 10 percent of programs in the country participating in the STS congenital cardiac surgery database (www.sts.org).