Teen Boy First Child to Get Permanent Artificial Heart


A fifteen-year-old boy in Italy became the first child in the world to receive a permanent artificial heart. The child was close to death before he received the life-saving artificial heart last week at Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital in Rome.

Artificial hearts usually implanted in adult patients

Until now, permanently implanted artificial hearts have been limited to adults. Typically, artificial hearts are used on a temporary basis for individuals who are waiting for a suitable human transplant. In the case of the teenager, he has Duchenne syndrome (Duchenne muscular dystrophy), a muscle wasting disease that made him ineligible to be placed on a heart transplant waiting list.

The artificial heart, which was implanted during a 10-hour operation, is 1.6 inches wide and weighs 14 ounces, and physicians took special measures to reduce the risk of infection, the main cause of failure. According to a statement released by the hospital, the implantation procedure “opened new therapeutic perspectives and hope for life for all patients with cardiac illnesses for whom a transplant is needed, especially for those like Thursday’s patient who cannot receive a donated heart for clinical reasons.”


Duchenne syndrome, one of nine types of muscular dystrophy, causes rapid degeneration of the muscles. It is a genetic disease that usually first appears in childhood at about age 2 to 6 years. The disease is inherited by boys through their mothers, while girls typically are only carriers. Duchenne muscular dystrophy eventually affects all the voluntary muscles, and then the heart and breathing muscles. Most patients die by their early 30s.

The permanently implanted artificial heart for this teen should provide him with another 20 to 25 years of “normal life,” according to hospital officials. Dr. Antonio Amodeo, the pediatric cardiac surgeon who headed the operation with an eight-member team, said that even though the child has Duchenne syndrome, the implanted heart “should give him an improved quality of life.” The teen was awake and responding well after the surgery.

Amodeo further explained that the heart is activated electrically with a hydraulic pump and “is powered through a plug positioned behind the left ear and connected to the battery that the patient holds on a belt.” The heart was placed completely inside the thorax, which reduces the risk of infection.

The implantation of the first permanent artificial heart into a child “opens up new horizons as there are many children who need transplants but the number of donors is very small,” explains Amodeo. Among those children are some like this 15-year-old patient, who has a condition that did not make him a candidate for a human heart transplant.

Muscular Dystrophy Association
UK Telegraph