Medical Moment: The ‘piccolo’ implant saving newborns with heart defects

Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 5:39 PM EST
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(WNDU) - One out of 10 babies in the U.S. is born prematurely.

That puts them at higher risk of being born with a hole in their heart. Many times, these holes will close by themselves.

But some babies need open-heart surgery. Now, a new device is allowing doctors to treat their tiniest patients with less risk.

Just seeing this sweet face is a miracle to mom Tiffany Stewart.

“He could fit in the palm of your hand,” Stewart said. “He was one pound, 10 ounces at birth.”

Jaden was born 17 weeks premature.

“He did come out not breathing on his own,” Stewart recalled.

Jaden had a large hole between the two blood vessels leading from his heart called PDA. It can cause a lifetime of respiratory problems.

“He had a blood vessel in his chest that ordinarily closes after you’re born, but when you’re born prematurely, sometimes it doesn’t close and that blood vessel causes extra blood flow to go through your lungs, which makes it hard to get off of respiratory support,” explained Robert English, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

Dr. English says it’s normal to treat bigger babies with this problem, but not one this tiny.

“Jaden was really small,” Dr. English said. “He was the smallest baby we’ve ever done here.”

Instead of major surgery, a new device called the piccolo allowed Dr. English to use a catheter, inserted through Jaden’s groin, to guide a wire mesh device through the vessels to close the opening.

“It’s just like a plug,” Dr. English continued. “So, it goes into the vessel and kind of plugs the vessel up.”

The plug can be smaller than a pea, and there’s no need to remove it.

“It will stay in forever,” Dr. English finished. “It’ll basically become a part of him and his blood vessel will sort of grow into it and kind of fix it into place.”

After six months in the NICU, Jaden is finally where he belongs.

By avoiding major surgery, babies run much less risk of infection and can expect a quicker discharge and a lifetime of healthier lungs.