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New Piccolo Heart Procedure at CHKD Helps Tiny Babies

Elizabeth Earley - or (757) 668-9049

“It’s been a huge advantage for them,” Cardiologist Michael Vance said. “They’re getting off of the ventilators, eating better, and getting out of the hospital sooner.”

NORFOLK, Va. – CHKD is saluting 7-month-old Zoe Irby of Virginia Beach and other heart patients like her during Heart Month of February, along with Congenital Heart Disease Week, which runs from February 7 to 14. 

Zoe was born with an opening between the two main vessels in the heart that usually closes on its own when a baby starts breathing. But like many premature, low birth weight babies, the opening in Zoe’s heart did not close after she was born last June. Medication or surgery are two options doctors usually turn to next. Medication didn’t help Zoe. Since she only weighed 1 pound, 3 ounces at birth, surgery would be a risky option.

Last year, though, the federal Food and Drug Administration approved a new device called the  Amplatzer Piccolo Occluder to treat tiny babies like Zoe. The self-expanding wire mesh device is inserted through a small incision in the leg and guided through vessels to the heart. 

While larger devices like this had been available for bigger babies with the defect, which is called patent ductus arteriosus, they were too big for the nearly 12,000 low weight babies born a year with this same defect. 

Dr. Michael Vance, a cardiologist at CHKD, was in the first batch of doctors from about a dozen pediatric centers across the country to be trained to use a miniaturized version approved by the FDA in January of 2019 and developed by the healthcare company Abbott.

On July 18, Zoe was the first baby at CHKD to undergo the Piccolo treatment. Three days later, she was breathing so much better that she was taken off the ventilator. She gained weight. By September, she was discharged home, and has continued to thrive.

Since then, four more babies at CHKD have had the same procedure. 

“It’s been a huge advantage for them,” Dr. Vance said. “They’re getting off of the ventilators, eating better, and getting out of the hospital sooner.”

Zoe’s mother, Cheyenne Irby of Virginia Beach, said her baby is reaching her development milestones, and her pediatrician has been pleased with her progress. “It was scary at first to try something so new, but the procedure didn’t take long, and Zoe started doing so much better afterwards.”

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