Chicago baby receives world's tiniest mechanical heart valve

A Chicago baby is among the first to have a rare lifesaving surgery after she received the world's smallest mechanical heart valve.

Doctors say working inside an infant’s heart is complex and this first of its kind device is making it easier for both doctors and patients. 

"Feisty" is not a word that Aisha Custodio was always able to use to describe her beautiful baby girl. Little Avery was born with a heart condition that made it difficult to breathe, she couldn't gain weight and it left her very weak. The culprit? A leaky heart valve restricting blood flow.

After multiple surgeries and at only 7-months old, doctors turned to the world’s smallest mechanical heart valve -- recently approved for use in the tiniest heart patients.

Physicians say the tiny mechanical heart valve -- the size of a dime -- is making a huge difference in the surgery room and is much less complicated to work with.

The valve is 15 millimeters -- that's one less than standard valves. That small difference is what Dr. Backer says makes this a game changer.

"We would have implanted a larger valve and we would have had to do some surgical maneuvers to make this valve fit and in some cases those surgical maneuvers could lead to complications,” he said.

Dr. Backer says the success rate is 90%. It's a rare surgery that he only has to perform once or twice a year, but for the sickest babies it's an alternative they did not have before.

Aisha says the heart valve has transformed and saved her baby girl's life. Avery is almost a year and a half now. The hope is the mechanical valve will last for 2-5 years before she requires another more permanent replacement surgery. But for now, the world’s smallest mechanical heart valve has made a world of difference for little Avery and her family.  

Doctor Backer says there isn't great demand for the tiny device because it's not common for babies to need valve replacements. He gives credit to Chicago based Abbott Labs for developing something that won't be a big money maker but will be a life saver for a very small population.

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