Florida boy doing well after receiving state's first Berlin heart device

Family photo available upon request.

A 9 -year-old Orange Park boy is listed in fair condition today (Oct. 4) at Shands at the University of Florida, just five days after becoming Florida's first patient to receive a Berlin Heart.

Alexzander Wood received the biventricular assist device during a nearly five-hour procedure led by UF surgeons Friday (Sept. 29). Sized specifically for children, the Berlin Heart is designed to boost his failing heart's ability to pump until a donor organ becomes available.

"He's made tremendous progress already and we're very pleased," said UF College of Medicine cardiac surgeon Dr. Mark Bleiweis. "He's still very sick but he's assuming more of the work of breathing himself and we're hoping to remove him from the ventilator in the next few days."

Alexzander's mother, Elizabeth Wood, said that until early August, her son "acted like a normal child." He had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and had been diagnosed with asthma several years before, but was otherwise healthy until he began experiencing chest and abdominal pain. UF cardiologists diagnosed the child on Aug. 11 with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, a weakness of the heart muscle that may have been caused by a virus. They admitted him to Shands at UF on Aug. 13. He was placed on the national heart transplant waiting list on Aug. 25.

"He was healthy until seven weeks ago," Wood said. "You can ask yourself 'What if,' but you can't change what's happened. We've been taking this day by day. Two days before the operation, I whispered in Alexzander's ear, 'You've got to be strong, this is your chance.'"

On the following day, Sept. 28, her birthday, Dr. Bleiweis and his team confirmed that the procedure would take place.

"That was the best birthday present ever," she said. "God was listening."

The Berlin Heart is the size of a small orange. Produced in Germany, the computerized pump system is available in various sizes suitable for use in infants and small children. Most of the device extends outside the body and connects to the heart via tubes implanted in the patient's chest.

The Berlin Heart is not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but the agency allowed UF and Shands officials to move forward on a one-time compassionate use basis. The UF Institutional Review Board and Shands officials also had to approve the procedure.

A team from Berlin Heart Inc. flew in from Germany Sept. 27 to assist.

The young patient is the 68th child in the United States and Canada, and one of only 200 internationally, to receive the Berlin Heart. Other U.S. and Canadian Berlin Heart recipients have relied on the device anywhere from one day to 234 days.

Alexzander is in the third grade at Fleming Island Elementary School. Wood works in registration at Orange Park Medical Center, and her sister, Laurie Dennis, is a surgical nurse at the same hospital. The family emphasized the importance of organ donation.

"I'm a donor. It's been on my driver's license every since I got a license," Wood said.

Dennis added, "All our family are donors. I've worked in intensive care units where we had to talk to families about donation and now I'm on the other side."