The day Eric Ramos, 18, arrived for surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center will be a day he always remembers. “Today, we’re going to make history,” he said, before he underwent the first-ever operation to place a small battery-powered left ventricular assist device (LVAD) in the heart of a patient with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Eric was only six years old when he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, and he has been using a wheelchair for the last seven years due to rapid deterioration in his muscles. Although his condition keeps him wheelchair-bound, Eric attends high school just like everyone else and spends his free time playing video games, tinkering with computers, and hanging out with his friends. Unfortunately, since all muscles are affected by the X-linked disease, Eric’s heart was rapidly deteriorating and needed help pumping blood through his body.
To give Eric an LVAD, lead surgeon Dr. Dan Meyer, Professor of Cardio Thoracic Surgery and Director of Mechanical Assist Devices at UT Southwestern, needed an army. “We had cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, LVAD coordinators, neurologists, pulmonologists, social workers, nutritionists, and a host of nurses and others excited to be a part of this unique opportunity,” said Dr. Meyer. “Delivering advanced medical care to patients like Eric is something you can only do at an institution like UT Southwestern, where we have the experience and the specialized care to perform higher-risk surgeries that other hospitals would not even entertain.”
The excellence found within UT Southwestern notwithstanding, the risks of surgery remained. “The tough part was making sure we would increase his quality of life and that undergoing surgery was worth the risks,” said Dr. Meyer. Dr. Pradeep Mammen, Medical Director of the Neuromuscular Cardiomyopathy Clinic was integral in advocating for Eric’s operation. He spent countless hours conducting background research on key components of the surgery and has special expertise in the cardiovascular complications that can occur in patients undergoing these procedures. Additionally, Eric’s vibrancy and maturity put the team at ease, and the decision was made. The day of surgery, “Hope canceled out my anxiety and fear,” said Eric. “I knew that I was making history, and that one day people were going to read about my case, and to me, it felt good to be a trailblazer.”
“For me, working with Eric and advocating on his behalf has been one of the highlights of my career,” said Dr. Mammen. “This is a paradigm shift in how we approach the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients, as well as patients with other forms of muscular dystrophy. We clearly have moved the field forward in terms of how we treat patients with muscular dystrophy and subsequent heart failure…. Our team flawlessly executed this endeavor for Eric.” The team’s success has added more energy to Eric’s daily life at his home in Rowlett, Texas. “It is thrilling to see the torque of the pump pushing blood through my body. My whole body pulsates,” he said. He is excited to graduate from high school in the spring to start a bright future–a future he hopes includes a healthy heart transplantation.