The Boy in the Bubble and the Baby With the Berlin Heart: The Dangers of “Bridge to Decision” in Pediatric Mechanical Circulatory Support

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Abstract

On the day of his birth in 1971, David Vetter was “temporarily” placed in a sterile isolator to wait for a bone marrow donor who would cure his Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Syndrome. After enduring 12 years in isolation, David, now known to the world as “The Boy in the Bubble”, received a bone marrow transplant from his unmatched sister and died 4 months later. Like Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Syndrome, pediatric heart failure is a rare and life-threatening condition for which organ transplantation is often the only option for survival. Nearly 15 years ago, the Berlin Heart EXCOR ventricular assist device was developed, as the isolator was for David, to be a bridge to transplantation for infants and children with unstable heart failure. Yet, when symptoms progress faster than the patient’s suitability for transplant can be evaluated, this device may be implanted as a “bridge-to-decision” while a transplant evaluation is completed. Therein lies the potential for history to repeat itself. As biomedical science carries us ever forward in our ability to sustain life, we must always bear in mind that the miraculous EXCOR must not be a machine that simply sustains the circulation. It must be, and always remain, a bridge to somewhere.

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