“Gabriella has always been athletic, so when she began having muscular chest pain that kept her from her activities, my husband and I knew something was wrong,” says Christine, Gabriella’s mother. “Her pediatric cardiologist recommended that we go to Miami Children’s, and we are so grateful that we did.”
At Miami Children’s, Gabriella's parents were told that she had an atrial septal heart defect, which occurs in the wall between the upper chambers of the heart. The hole causes blood to leak from the heart’s left side back to the right side. If left untreated, patients could develop severe symptoms of exhaustion and pulmonary hypertension and, ultimately, congestive heart failure.
An Ideal Solution
The family turned to Evan Zahn, MD, Chief of Cardiology at the Congenital Heart Institute
and Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Program at Miami Children’s. Dr. Zahn collaborated with a company called W.L. Gore to perform trials on a device known as the Gore HELEX® Septal Occluder, a special catheter containing patch material designed specifically for heart defects like Gabriella’s.
“Miami Children’s was one of the first sites in the world to conduct clinical trials for this device. When I assessed the hole in Gabriella’s heart, I knew this procedure was ideal for her,” says Dr. Zahn. “I keep a model of the device in my office, which I showed to her parents while explaining the procedure and its benefits.”
For Gabriella's Family, the choice to have the procedure was clear.
“Dr. Zahn told us he had a daughter the same age as Gabriella, and that he would want his daughter to have the procedure if she had the same condition,” Christine says. “We felt very comfortable with him, and he explained the procedure so thoroughly to us that we never had second thoughts.”
Back on the Beach
On August 1, 2006
, Gabriella had the procedure, making her the last patient in the HELEX clinical trials. Following her successful recovery, the device received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.
Gabriella did have one concern, however—she asked the nurses whether she would be able to go on vacation with her family the following Saturday.
“The nurses told us we could go on the trip, but that Gabriella should stay out of the water for five to seven days, and she might have some soreness,” Christine says. “By the end of that week, she was fishing, snorkeling and riding bikes, as if she had never had a heart problem. We are so grateful to Dr. Zahn and the entire staff at Miami Children’s for giving her the ability to play and be a child again.”
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