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A Heart Two Sizes Too Big – Keeping one young Latina alive through technology

A Heart Two Sizes Too Big – Keeping one young Latina alive through technology

By Amy Robinson
La Prensa San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — Amber Munoz, 15, was diagnosed with non-ischemic cardiomyopathy last January. Her heart was too big and couldn't pump the blood through her body. After a grueling six hour procedure on April 4th, Amber received a heart transplant that saved her life. The procedure was performed by Jay Pal, M.D., Ph.D., and John Calhoun, M.D., of U.T. Medicine San Antonio. Amber’s case was one of the first collaborative efforts between the Texas Transplant Physician Group of Michael Kwan, M.D., and Chandra Kunavarapu, M.D., with UT Medicine surgeons.

But perhaps most incredible about this collaborative case is the technology used to keep Amnber alive from for the 48 days from January until April, when her wait for a new heart was finally over.

Doctors used the HeartMate®left-ventricular assist device to keep her alive, a technique never before used successfully in one so young. Not only did Amber survive connected to a cable, monitor and pump -- she may be the youngest patient to have ever been kept alive in this manner.

“We were concerned about children being able to manage these things, especially the emotional component of having a battery connected to the body,” Pal said. “But she did a fabulous job.”

Amber’s positive attitude was impressive for a 15-year-old girl.

Kwan described her character as upbeat and admirable and describer her as having a good outlook on life. The young patient, who was dealing with her own fear and pain, even helped others with heart disorders by starting a Facebook support group.

“She’s inspiring others whom she’s never even met that they can do it,” Kwan added.

Unfortunately, not all enlarged hearts are as quickly detected as Amber’s was. Complications of an enlarged heart include shortness of breath and weight gain and often the disorder is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can resemble asthma, bronchitis or simply being out of shape.

Cardiomyopathy has a spectrum of causesthat can include blocked arteries, birth defect or even viruses.

While cases like Amber’s are unusual, Kwan wants people to know it is important to seek a specialist if you are suffering from heart problems. About 80 percent of people with heart disorders can be treated with just medication, but San Antonio is at the forefront of the field with some of the best outcomes in the state for thos who require surgery.

After avoiding sudden death, Amber…

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