Science-- there's something for everyone

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Toddler gets artificial lung

For the first time, a very young child was successfully put on a Novalung artificial lung.  Doctors at the Saint Louis Children’s Hospital, Washington University put the two-year old boy on the device for 23 days, long enough for his own lungs to heal.

The child was hospitalized with pulmonary hypertension.  The arteries in his lungs were too narrow to allow proper blood flow.  To compensate, the right ventricle of his heart (which pumps blood to the lungs) became enlarged.  This in turn compressed the left side of his heart and created extremely high blood pressure in his lungs.  These conditions quickly lead to heart failure.

The child was put on a heart-lung machine to give his heart and lungs time to heal with medication.  After 16 days on the ventilator, his heart did improve but not his lungs.  As there were no lungs available for transplant, the boy’s doctors decided to use a Novalung artificial lung.  This device had been used in adults, but never in young children, requiring emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and from Washington University's Institutional Review Board.

The toddler was attached to the artificial lung, which remains outside the body and uses the body’s own heartbeat to circulate the blood, for 23 days, apart form occasional circuit changes.  At that time, the boy’s lungs had healed enough for the device to be removed, an event inadvertently discovered when he accidentally kicked off one of the connectors.  A year later, the child is surviving on medication and has not needed a lung transplant.

A Novalung.  Shown by permission of the Novalung company.