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South Florida teen first in state to get implantable pediatric heart device

After suffering from heart failure, D’Arealis Dennard is now being helped by the first FDA-approved heart pump for children.

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – According to the American Heart Association, about 1% of all newborn infants will have some type of structural heart defect that can ultimately lead to heart failure.

Now, the first FDA-approved heart pump for children is giving a South Florida teen a second chance.

For years, D’Arealis Dennard had difficulty breathing, something doctors told his mother was the result of bronchitis.

She had no idea that her son actually suffered from a syndrome that would ultimately damage his heart.

“We never went to a doctor for his heart, never got a referral to check out his heart. It was always bronchitis or his calcium was low or Vitamin D, but they never checked out his heart,” Lakesha Dennard said.

By the time the family came to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in July, D’Arealis was in complete heart failure.

“D’Arealis has a severe form of cardiomyopathy called left ventricular non-compaction where the heart muscle just didn’t form right and it gets weaker and dilates over time,” said Dr. Shetland Shugh, a heart failure and transplant cardiologist with the hospital.

When oral medications failed to work, D’Arealis became the first child in Florida to receive a small implantable device called the Heart-Mate 3.

It’s the first left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, specifically designed and approved for pediatric patients.

“You really can take someone who was lying in bed, couldn’t eat, couldn’t walk, couldn’t do anything, couldn’t breathe, and now they, like this kiddo, now he’s home,” said Shugh.

D’Arealis said his friends are fascinated when he explains what the device is doing.

“I actually tell them this wire is connected to a battery that helps pump my heart,” he said.

Ultimately he may need a heart transplant but for the near future, D’Arealis will have regular visits with specialists at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital who will be keeping a close eye on his progress.

“He’s determined, determined to work through this and fight through it,” his mom said.

According to the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation, over 400 heart transplants are performed on pediatric patients every year.

About the Authors:

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.

Kristi Krueger has built a solid reputation as an award-winning medical reporter and effervescent anchor. She joined Local 10 in August 1993. After many years co-anchoring the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., Kristi now co-anchors the noon newscasts, giving her more time in the evening with her family.