118 days without a heart

August 24, 2009 9:40:47 AM PDT
A heart muscle disease in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed and does not work like it should due to the deterioration of the myocardium (the actual heart muscle). There are three types of cardiomyopathy: dilated, hypertrophic and restrictive. Dilated (congestive) cardiomyopathy is the most common form. In this type, the heart cavity is enlarged and stretched. The heart gradually becomes weaker and does not pump normally, causing most patients to develop heart failure. Arrhythmias, abnormal heart rhythms and disturbances in the heart's electrical conduction may also occur. As blood flows more slowly though the now enlarged heart, blood clots may also form. All of this sometimes results in a heart transplant being the only means of survival. According to the Miller School of Medicine, 3 million people in the United States are living with cardiomyopathy, and 400,000 people are diagnosed each year. Every year, cardiomyopathy contributes to about a quarter of a million deaths.

HEART ASSIST MACHINES: Heart assist machines help a patient survive until a heart transplant can be performed. An implantable ventricular assist device is a mechanical pump that helps a person's heart that is too weak to pump blood through the body. Each pump is connected to a ventricle, the right and the left, to assist the ventricles in pumping blood normally. But in D'Zhana's case, there were no heart or ventricles to connect to the pumps. To remedy the problem, artificial conduits were made to connect blood vessels to the machine, allowing blood to pump though the body.

PROGNOSIS: Once a patient receives a new heart, the heart is seen by the body as a foreign organ, and the patient's immune system may attack the new organ and reject it. Immunosuppressant drugs are often administered to help prevent this from happening. The life expectancy of a transplanted heart is not forever. On average, the life expectancy is about 15 years, which means a patient that has received a heart transplant will potentially face the need for a second transplant after 15 years. This process, called chronic rejection, happens even though a patient is taking immune suppressive medications. The chronic small process of rejection occurs over many years, and at some point becomes so advanced the transplanted heart starts to lose its function and a new heart must replace it.


Omar Montejo
University of Miami Office of Communication
(305) 243-5654