London – Surgeons have implanted an artificial heart in a British child for the first time after doctors decided it was the only way to save her life.
Chloe Narbonne, 12, had the device installed during a nine-hour operation at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London after a heart transplant failed.
Her medical team had the choice of keeping her on life-support while waiting for a second transplant, or performing the ‘extremely risky’ surgery.
The artificial heart kept her alive until another human heart became available a few weeks later.
While others have been linked up to a device known as a Berlin heart, which replicates the heart’s functions outside the body, Chloe is the youngest person in Europe to have had an artificial heart implanted.
The teenager from Worcester, who is now 13, told the Guardian: "I feel well, like my normal self, but not quite my normal self, not after what I’ve been through."
"I guess the artificial heart was my lifesaver; it’s what kept me alive until I got another heart. What I’ve been through is life-changing."
"Sometimes I get frustrated or upset that I can’t do certain things any more. I bump into things a lot and have to read some lines in a book a second time because a bleed on the brain has affected my peripheral vision, and I can’t do PE at school."
"But it’s changed my perspective on life. Now I know that I have to grasp every moment." Chloe was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy when she was four weeks old, a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump properly.
At the age of 11 she had a stroke while waiting for a new heart, and was left close to death when her eventual transplant failed to work.
Heart surgeon Andre Simon was forced to rebuild parts of her atrium, or upper chamber, which had been removed during the failed transplant.
Chloe’s mother, Fabienne Narbonne, said: "How they saved Chloe should be recognised for what it is – a miracle."
"Without the artificial heart she would be dead. It kept her alive for those crucial few weeks."
"By the time she got it she had run out of options. We owe the donors and their families eternal thanks."
Only 1 690 people in the world have received an artificial heart. Of those, 34 were under 18.
The oldest person in the UK to receive one was 62. Chloe is the third youngest in the world, after a nine-year-old and an 11-year-old in the US.
Dr Margarita Burmester, head of the hospital’s paediatric intensive unit, said of the procedure: ‘It’s something that was thought to be impossible.
"There’s no doubt it was extremely high risk. I’d never had a child without a heart before. It was completely novel, unprecedented."