Artificial heart kept girl awaiting transplant alive for 118 days

Tall, slim, wearing a hospital mask, a long scar running down her chest, D'Zhana Simmons, 14, stood up from her wheelchair. She took a few tentative steps and sat down at a table before the TV cameras. In a barely audible voice, she spoke of living for 118 days without a heart, her blood circulated by a pair of mechanical pumps, in limbo between transplant operations.

''Thank you,'' she said, holding back tears, to the Holtz Children's Hospital transplant doctors sitting with her.

From July 4, when a first heart transplant failed, until Oct. 29, when she was well enough for another heart, D'Zhana's chest cavity was empty, doctors said. Beside her during that time was an artificial heart with two pumps. One took over for the heart's right ventricle, pumping blood to the girl's lungs; the other did the work of the left ventricle, pumping blood to her body.

''It was scary not knowing from day to day if it might be fatal,'' said D'Zhana's mother, Twolla Anderson, who brought her daughter to Miami from their home in South Carolina. ``I give my thanks to my buddies. I love the transplant team.''

The procedure is not entirely experimental, said Dr. Si Pham, director of heart and lung transplantation for University of Miami/Jackson Medical Center, where Holtz is located. It was used for more than nine months for an adult man, he said -- but never before for a child.

''It's good to know we have the option now for small people,'' Pham said.

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