Having a Heart-to-Heart: Darrian’s Story

Darrian Bailey was born premature, at 29 weeks, but it wasn’t until after his first birthday that his doctors discovered a serious heart condition. Just a few days after his birthday, as Darrian lost his appetite and began struggling with breathing, his parents Darnesha and Christopher became concerned.

Doctors told his parents that Darrian needed a heart transplant. But before a new heart could be found, physicians at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Levine Children’s Hospital needed to keep him alive. They decided to use a total artificial heart specifically designed for pediatric patients.

Known as the Berlin Heart, the device will keep a critically ill patient alive until a donor heart becomes available. Because most children are too small for a regular artificial heart, this machine is attached externally.

Thomas S. Maxey, MD, a pediatric cardiac surgeon at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute and Levine Children’s Hospital, performed the operation to give Darrian the artificial heart. He also performed Darrian’s transplant when the donor heart became available. Working alongside Dr. Maxey was pediatric heart transplant physician Gonzalo A. Wallis, MD.

Dr. Wallis has specific expertise with the Berlin Heart – which helped shape the decision to use it with Darrian since the baby’s heart was rapidly deteriorating. “In my previous roles I have seen many patients have a good experience with this type of artificial heart,” said Dr. Wallis, adding that the patients he’s cared for have a very high rate of successful transplants following their experiences with the artificial heart.
“Darrian’s heart was failing and the support he required to maintain blood flow to the rest of his organs is only temporary and can have significant complications,” said Dr. Maxey. “While there were many risks associated with this procedure, we felt our team had the ability to be successful with implant and management of the device as Darrian waited on the transplant list.”

While the surgery was a nerve-wracking nine hours, mom Darnesha says the cardiac team kept them up-to-date at every step. “The whole team was so committed throughout the surgery,” she said. “Kati [Robinson, a pediatric heart transplant nurse] and Dr. Wallis came and talked to us to make us aware of what was going on.”

“It’s a rollercoaster ride,” dad Christopher said. “But our baby’s here with us right now.”

With the entire cardiovascular team supporting Drs. Maxey and Wallis, the surgery was a success. Darrian was kept on the artificial heart for several weeks and in mid-May, he received his new heart. Darrian is at home now and doing great!