Human Interest

Groundbreaking heart procedure saving lives of ‘extremely early and extremely sick’ preemies

premature heart surgery

Doctors at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta are utilizing a groundbreaking procedure to help give premature babies a better shot at survival. The procedure, which closes an open flap of the heart vessel, was recently successfully performed on a baby girl weighing just one pound one ounce.

A press release from the hospital detailed the procedure, which is called a transcatheter Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA). It involves doctors inserting a catheter into the baby’s leg to transport and implant a device in the infant’s heart. The entire process is still relatively new and was approved by the FDA in 2019.


“If you hold your fist like this, that’s the size of your heart. So, if you imagine a one-pound baby and their fist. It’s not even the size of your pinky nail if you will. So as you can imagine, it’s a really small heart,” explained Dr. Allen Ligon, an interventional cardiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta who completed the procedure.

“This is a true team effort, starting with the NICU staff who medically stabilized the child for the procedure; the Cath lab crew who prepared the room and performed excellent protocol execution; the anesthesiology team who provided excellent transfer as well as anesthetic care; and the imaging staff who supported us throughout this case,” said Dr. Ligon. “This new program allows for surrounding hospitals to transfer to Children’s for the procedure, and in the long run, assist in saving the lives of extremely premature babies.”

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According to the hospital, the surgery was a success, and within six days the little girl had gained 135 grams, was taken off blood pressure support medication, and was weaned down significantly on her respiratory ventilator support.

Dr. Ligon told 11 Alive that in the past, the only way to close the heart vessel was through invasive surgery. “We have not had the technology or the capability to do this in these really small and medically fragile babies. These babies are born extremely early and they’re extremely sick,” he said, noting that he was optimistic about this new advancement in medicine.

“I think this is really exciting. We don’t have the data yet, it’s still really new. But in the past, the only way to treat this was a surgery and it wasn’t well-tolerated,” he said. “We are elated about the outcomes. The kids have tolerated it really well and the results have been outstanding,” he said.

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