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Innovative artificial heart helped Arizona boy treated at PCH survive

KTAR's Jim Sharpe talks to heart transplant patient Gabriel Gonzelez and his parents, Jesus and Anabel, during the 2018 Give-A-Thon for Phoenix Children's Hospital. (KTAR Photo/Tyler Bassett)

PHOENIX — Gabriel Gonzalez was a healthy 10-year-old until his heart gave out in April.

The hospital in Yuma, where he lives, didn’t have the amenities needed to treat him, so he was airlifted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

“That was the reason we came out here, because they didn’t know what to do, what steps to take in order to help him,” Jesus Gonzalez, Gabriel’s father, said Thursday during the KTAR News 92.3 FM and 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station Give-A-Thon, an annual fundraiser for PCH.

Dr. Daniel Velez, the hospital’s chief of cardiothoracic surgery, said innovative technology was used to treat Gabriel that hadn’t been used previously on pediatric patients.

Still, the boy’s condition deteriorated.

“We decided that his best therapy would be to, unfortunately, take out his heart and put in a total artifical one and then wait for the perfect match for a heart transplant,” Velez said.

Velez said only about eight kids have gone through the procedure.

“About five or six surgeons in the country have implanted a total artifical heart into a child,” Velez said.

According to annual rankings by U.S. News and World Report, PCH is the ninth-best children’s cardiology hospital in the nation.

The facility completed 17 heart transplants in 2017.

“Even though many could be prepared for it, the expertise was very limited,” Velez said. “So that’s all happening here.”

On July 4, Gabriel’s turn on the donor list came up, and he received a heart transplant.

He’s living back home, and his father said he’s doing “great.”

“He gets to play with his friends, he gets to be a normal kid again,” Jesus said.

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