New technology is treating heart defects in premature babies

Cardiologists are using a new device to help treat micro-preemies — babies born before the 26th week of pregnancy and/or weighing less than 2 pounds — who develop a life-threatening heart defect at birth.

State-of-the-art technology is helping save the lives of some of Louisville’s youngest patients.

Cardiologists are using a new device to help treat micro-preemies — babies born before the 28th week of pregnancy and/or weighing less than 2 pounds — who have a heart defect caused by part of the fetal structure that remains at birth.

Joshua Kurtz, M.D., pediatric cardiologist with Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, has performed numerous successful procedures to treat this defect known as a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). It is one of the most common congenital heart defects in premature babies.

The PDA is a connection between the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to lungs and the rest of the body. A normal part of fetal development, the opening allows the mother’s body to provide enough blood and oxygen until birth. Soon after a newborn takes its first breaths, the opening typically closes automatically, but with some premature babies, it remains open.

“The PDA causes excess blood from an infant’s heart to pump into their lungs, which can lead to fluid in the lungs or heart failure and make it difficult to breathe and grow  if not addressed,” Dr. Kurtz said. “This new advancement in technology allows us to respond quickly with a minimally invasive procedure.”

The Amplatzer PiccoloTM Occluder, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2019, is an alternative to open  surgery and can close the opening in a baby’s heart with fewer risks and a speedier recovery. The “PiccoloTM” device, which is the size of a small pea, is implanted by using a special IV known as a sheath in the infant’s leg and guiding the device through blood vessels to seal the connection in the blood vessels. Healthy tissue eventually grows around the small mesh piece.

Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, provides comprehensive children’s cardiology care from before birth through teenage years and adulthood.

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Recently, a team at Norton Children’s Heart Institute successfully performed the procedure on a 2.4-pound micro-preemie who was born at 24 weeks and  had  heart failure due to the PDA. Dr. Kurtz and his colleague Dr. Edward Kim performed three additional procedures in early December, and the babies — who weighed less than 2.5 pounds — were able to continue their recovery in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The Amplatzer PiccoloTM Occluder is just one piece of advanced equipment at Norton Children’s Heart Institute that can help treat heart defects commonly seen in babies. Using the latest technology means children undergoing treatment or diagnosis in the catheterization lab will receive less radiation, speedier, and more accurate procedures, according to Dr. Kurtz.


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