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WESTWOOD : Baby Boy Survives Rare Heart Transplant

August 07, 1994|DOUG ALGER

A rare heart transplant performed for the first time at UCLA Medical Center has given an infant boy a new chance at life.

David Henry Patt, son of Roy and Sarah Patt of Santa Clarita, was born July 19 with an underdeveloped left heart ventricle. He was 16 days old Wednesday, when doctors successfully replaced his heart with that of a 4-day-old infant.

Despite having the largest heart transplant program in the country, the early-morning operation was the first time doctors at UCLA have performed a neonatal heart transplant.

"There are just a few centers in the country that do neonatal transplants, so it's still very rare," said Dr. Hillel Laks, the medical center's chief of cardiac surgery.

The baby's parents said in an interview that they are thankful not only for the doctors who performed the four-hour operation, but also for the anonymous, out-of-state family that agreed to donate the heart from their newborn infant, who had died.

"We feel grateful that someone was able to give the gift of life during their time of tragedy," said Sarah Patt, 27.

"Somewhere along the line, somebody lost a baby," said Roy Patt, 36. "It would be very difficult to let somebody take your precious, newborn baby, even when you know it's for a good thing."

The Patts said they have been fortunate throughout their experience, from when they first learned of David's heart defect by accident, to this week when the donated heart became available--one day before doctors were prepared to proceed with a riskier surgical procedure.

The Patts first discovered the baby's heart defect when Sarah, a fifth-grade teacher at Sulphur Springs Elementary School, went to UCLA Medical Center for a belated ultrasound examination during the 26th week of her pregnancy.

"Things were so strange that we found out at all," said Roy Patt, who works as a printing broker. "We probably wouldn't be here at all if it weren't for a series of flukes that put us in a better position than most people" of knowing.

Sarah Patt's doctors had three choices--abort the baby, proceed with a surgery to reconstruct the heart's aorta to link it solely to the right ventricle or wait for a donated heart for a transplant.

Although the survival rate is three times higher for a transplant patient--near 90%--it can only be attempted when a donated heart becomes available. After two difficult weeks, the Patts received word of a possible donor from outside California--one day before doctors planned to go ahead with the other, less successful procedure.

Barring a rejection of the new heart, doctors expect David to live a normal life. The only accommodation that must be made to his transplanted heart will be a regular injection of immunosuppressant drugs.

The procedure, including a two-week stay at the medical center's intensive care unit, is estimated to cost more than $100,000.

The Patts expect to bring baby David home in a week or so.

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