More than 35,000 babies are born with a heart defect. For many, this means a lifetime of surgery and medicine. Now, doctors are using stem cells to save their smallest patients.

Analiah Duarte is always on the run.

I try to walk with her and she's like leave me alone, said Johana Duarte, Analiah s Mother.

She was born with one of the most lethal and rare congenital heart defects. It's called Ebstein's anomaly. One of Analiah's heart valves failed to form.

They're left with this horrible little non-functional, valve that allows blood to slosh back and forth inside their heart, said Redmond Paul Burke, MD, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery at Miami Children's Hospital.

Cardiovascular surgeon Redmond Burke says it causes hearts to grow four, five, six times larger than normal.

Analiah was born with a heart that filled her entire chest, explained Dr. Burke.

Previously, surgeons would repair, replace, or close her valve, but that surgery would need to be done over and over as she grows.

The holy grail for heart valve repair and replacement is a valve that will grow with the child, said Dr. Burke.

Doctors created that valve out of extracellular matrix-a substance extracted from a pig's bladder. The implant acts like a fishnet. It captures stem cells flowing in Analiah's blood stream. The cells attach to the impact, grow around it, and create a new heart valve.

We could see, for the first time in her life, the valve that we had created opening and closing, said Dr. Burke.

A year later, Analiah's valve is working. As a result, her heart is now a third of the original size and she's now showing her big sis her moves.

Doctor Burke says Analiah's new valve should grow with her throughout her life, so she won t need a transplant, drugs, or more surgery. He also believes this could be used in adults to replace heart valves.

Read or Share this story: