South Florida teen first in state to get implantable pediatric heart device

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – According to the American Heart Association, about 1% of all newborn babies will have some form of structural heart defect that can eventually lead to heart failure.

Now the first FDA-approved pediatric heart pump is giving a South Florida teen a second chance.

For years, D’Arealis Dennard had trouble breathing, something doctors told his mother was the result of bronchitis.

She had no idea that her son was actually suffering from a syndrome that would eventually damage his heart.

“We never went to a doctor for his heart, never got a referral to look at his heart. It was always bronchitis or his calcium was low or vitamin D, but they never checked his heart,” Lakesha Dennard said.

By the time the family came to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in July, D’Arealis was in complete heart failure.

“D’Arealis has a severe form of cardiomyopathy called left ventricular noncompaction, where the heart muscle has not formed properly and becomes weaker and widens over time,” says Dr. Shetland Shugh, heart failure and transplant cardiologist at the hospital.

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When oral medications didn’t work, D’Arealis became the first child in Florida to receive a small implantable device called the Heart-Mate 3.

It is the first left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, designed and approved specifically for pediatric patients.

“You can really take someone who was in bed, couldn’t eat, couldn’t walk, couldn’t do anything, couldn’t breathe, and now, like this boy, he’s home,” Shugh said.

D’Arealis said his friends are fascinated when he explains what the device does.

“I actually tell them that this wire is connected to a battery that helps my heart pump,” he said.

He may eventually need a heart transplant, but in the near future, D’Arealis will make regular visits to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital specialists, who will keep a close eye on his progress.

“He’s determined, determined to get through this and fight through it,” his mother said.

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According to the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation, more than 400 heart transplants are performed in pediatric patients each year.

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