Artificial Hearts Give New Life

Cincinnati Children's leads the way in pediatric heart care.

Heart issues were nothing new to Travale King.

He had been treated at Cincinnati Children’s for his heart condition since he was young. After experiencing chest pains in school when he was 13, Travale was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition that affects the heart's ability to pump blood.

He received a heart transplant, but years later his donor heart started to give out and he went into cardiac failure this August 2015. To ensure he could live long enough to receive a second heart, the Ventricular Assist Device team in the Heart Institute supported him with a SynCardia Total Artificial Heart while he waited for a transplant. Cardiothoracic Surgeon Roosevelt Bryant, MD, performed the procedure, the fourth done at Cincinnati Children’s.

Through it all, Travale remained cheerful and optimistic. He danced his way through his struggles, even teaching the staff on his hospital unit a popular dance called the Nae Nae, proving he had enough energy to do it. During the three months he spent at Cincinnati Children’s on the SynCardia he received 150 visitors, including his mom, son and aunt. “I have a huge and strong support system,” he said.

A few weeks after he danced with his Total Artificial Heart, Travale had a successful heart transplant. “I am so blessed to be here,” he said.

Artificial heart provides chance to dance

The Pediatric Leader

Cincinnati Children’s experts use devices to stabilize patients like Travale and support them while they wait for a donor heart. Ventricular assist devices can also be used to support patients with heart failure who are not transplant candidates.

Cincinnati Children’s continues to be the only pediatric hospital in the region that offers the Total Artificial Heart for patients.

The Heart Institute is now the leader in SynCardia Total Artificial Hearts implanted at a pediatric institution. Before Travale, a previously healthy 16-year-old boy had been transported to the Heart Institute from our partner cardiology program at the University of Kentucky and was quickly diagnosed with cardiomyopathy with both severe right and left heart dysfunction. Within days of arrival in Cincinnati, he developed a clot in his ventricle, putting him at very high risk for a stroke.

Angela Lorts, MD, Medical Director of the Ventricular Assist Device Program; David Morales, MD, Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery; and the rest of the Heart Institute team determined that without a SynCardia Total Artificial Heart implant to bridge the patient to transplant, he would not make it.

Three days after the patient’s arrival, Dr. Morales implanted the artificial heart. The patient was off the ventilator in 48 hours and went on to receive a successful heart transplant three months later, just as Travale did. “I take nothing for granted,” said Travale. And the Heart Institute team takes nothing for granted, either.

Donor Spotlight

Passion and compassion move medicine forward

Tui Mitsui had life-saving heart surgery in California when he was only 36 hours old. Then, when he was six months old, his doctors recommended another surgery. But Tui was growing well and showing no outward symptoms, and his parents hoped to avoid another surgery. So the Mitsuis decided to travel all the way from their home in Hawaii to Cincinnati Children’s for a second opinion.

Once here, they were so deeply impressed with our compassion for patients and passion for innovation that they made a gift to advance treatments in our Heart Institute.

Chuck Mitsui, Tui’s dad, says, “There’s an energy there, a commitment to advance research and care that’s almost tangible. And that’s something I want to be a part of.”

Pictured: Families, like the Mitsuis, travel great distances for the expertise, compassion and innovation found in our Heart Institute.

Transformational Efforts

A multidisciplinary team, led by VAD-trained medical and surgical physicians, reviews all referrals. Specialists in transplantation, hematology, pain, neurology, infectious disease and psychology all participate in the review process and are involved in referrals and recommendations. The careful evaluation process even includes cardiothoracic surgeons simulating the surgery on a 3-D model of the patient’s heart to ensure optimal fit.

Then a VAD-trained team performs the device implant. Afterward, our educators train the patient’s caregivers and family as they prepare to go home with a device. For patients who are discharged on a device, VAD educators also train the patient’s community in case of emergency. A VAD team member is available 24 hours a day for questions from the patient, parents or community primary care providers.

Pictured: Tiernee Gonzalez was the first female at Cincinnati Children's implanted with a Total Artificial Heart.

Through careful and thorough efforts – and partnerships with patients, families and others – our Heart Institute staff is changing the outcome together to give hearts new life.

There’s an energy there, a commitment to advance research and care that’s almost tangible. And that’s something I want to be a part of.

Chuck Mitsui, generous donor