D'Zhana Simmons, 14, from South Carolina, who was in a hospital in Miami for a heart transplant, was attached to a custom-built artificial blood-pumping device for 118 days while she waited. The teenager was alert all the time, was able to eat, and would sometimes walk around her hospital room with a blinking photocopier-size ventricular assist device that was attached to her chest to pump and cleanse her blood. "It was like I was a fake person, like I didn't really exist. I was just here," the New York Post quoted her as saying at her triumphant press conference at Holtz Children's Hospital in Miami. "But I know that I really was here," she added.
Simmons was discovered to be suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes the heart to become enlarged and too weak to sufficiently pump blood.
The surgeons at Holtz Children's Hospital had performed a transplant on July 2, but after two days they had to do an emergency surgery to remove it because it was not functioning properly and risked a deadly rupture.
"In the past, this situation could have been lethal," Dr. Marco Ricci, director of paediatric cardiac surgery at the University of Miami, said.
After the failure Ricci modified the Thoratec Corp.-made ventricular assist device, which was commonly used for only hours at a time during major operations, into a long-term artificial heart.
With Simmons' transplanted heart removed, Ricci and colleagues crafted substitute heart chambers with a special fabric then hooked her aorta and ventricle to the pumps.
"She essentially lived for 118 days without a heart, with her circulation supported only by two blood pumps," Ricci said.
"This, we believe, is the first paediatric patient who has received such a device in this configuration without the heart, and possibly one of the youngest," he added.
For Simmons it was the most harrowing time of her life as her other organs were also affected.
"You never knew when it would malfunction," she said.
But she kept fighting on and even went for walks with the device, with four medical staff in tow to push, when she was up to it.
A second transplant was performed October 29, and by all indicators it was a success.
"I truly believe it's a miracle," her mother, Twolla Anderson, said.
"I give my thanks to my buddies. I love the transplant team," she added.