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September 17, 2008 > Heart device lets woman see son

Heart device lets woman see son

By Laura Ungar, The Courier-Journal
Submitted By AP Wire Service

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP), Sep 07 _ Hours after giving birth to her son in January, Crystal Gosser's heart began to fail. Her skin was blue-gray and cold by the time an ambulance rushed her from a Somerset hospital to Jewish Hospital in Louisville.

``She was probably hours away from death,'' said Dr. Sanjeev Aggarwal, a University of Louisville surgeon at Jewish.

To survive, the 34-year-old from Russell Springs would need a ventricular assist device to help her heart pump enough blood to supply her failing lungs, kidneys and liver. And Aggarwal, a new father, would need to come face-to-face with a long-held fear.

``My wife and I had just had our first child,'' he said. ``This was my worst nightmare.'' Today _ thanks to her doctors, medical technology and, she says, God _ Gosser's heart is beating on its own, allowing her and her husband Trevor the chance for a normal life with 7 1/2-month-old Kaleb.

Their story is an example of the growing use of ventricular assist devices for purposes other than what they are best known for _ keeping patients alive before heart transplants.

In about three-quarters of cases, Aggarwal said, the devices, which mimic the pumping action of the heart, are used as bridges to transplants. But about five percent of the time, including Gosser's case, they are used as bridges to recovery.

The balance of the time they are a permanent alternative to a heart transplant.

But even as technology improves, Aggarwal said making a full recovery after coming so close to death is rare.

Crystal Gosser ``beat all the odds. At every step of the way there were potential problems and hazards,'' he said. ``When I see her in the office these days, it's truly a miracle.''

Trevor Gosser, 30, agreed as he held his smiling son.

``We've just been blessed,'' said Gosser, a farmer who also works helping disabled people find jobs. ``I've got the two best things any man could ever want. I've got a good wife _ a loving wife _ and a healthy son. There's nothing more I can ask for. And I could've lost both of them the same night.''

In surgery, Aggarwal said the first goal was to get Gosser stablilized and put her on a heart and lung machine.

Then surgeons connected the heart assist device, Abiomed's AB 5000, to her left ventricle. It sits outside the body and has two tubes, one bringing blood from the body to a pumping chamber and the other taking it back to the heart. The pumping chamber is connected to a large electric control module.

Aggarwal suspected she might ultimately need a heart transplant. But he realized that wouldn't be necessary over the following days when the device, along with medication, helped her body to heal. Doctors removed the device on Jan. 28, and she was discharged from the hospital Feb. 5. She racked up more than $500,000 in medical bills, almost all covered by insurance.

``Over time, all her organs recovered,'' Aggarwal said. ``She completely recovered normal heart function.''

Crystal Gosser said she never thought she'd become a heart patient in her 30s, but is grateful for the technology that saved her.

Looking back, she said she can hardly believe how close she came to dying without ever seeing her baby. She saw him for the first time when she came home from Jewish Hospital.

``I cried,'' she said, her voice breaking as she looked at her son. ``He's just wonderful.''


Information from: The Courier-Journal,

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