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El Paso boy, 9, receives artificial heart

By Collin Carroll, Collin Carroll, collin.carroll@kvia.com
Published On: Nov 02 2013 12:46:11 AM CDT
Updated On: Jan 16 2014 06:37:45 PM CST

A 9-year-old El Paso boy is recovering at a Dallas hospital after receiving an artificial heart Wednesday.

EL PASO, Texas -

A 9-year-old El Paso boy is recovering at a Dallas hospital after receiving an artificial heart Wednesday.

Matthew "Gordo" Olivas is one of 30 children in the world to receive a mechanical heart fit for an adult.

"To even think that I could have lost my son was crazy," said Gordo's dad, Matt Olivas. "I felt like nothing. I felt like the world had just ended."

Gordo was born with a congenital heart defect called Ebstein's Anomaly. A valve in his heart allows blood to pool in his right atrium, rather than pumping it to his lungs and the rest of his body. Patients with the defect can have hearts twice the normal size, according to Gordo's cardiologist in El Paso.

The enlarged heart made breathing difficult -- and a lack of blood flow to the lungs didn't help, either.

"Patients with Epstein's Anomaly can have trouble with exercise capacity," said cardiologist Dr. Jeffrey Schuster, who sees one or two cases a year in El Paso.

"He got chubby and we just called him Gordo," Matt said. "When I was little they called me Gordo."

Dr. Schuster recommended a routine valve replacement in Dallas on Oct. 17. But when doctors opened Gordo up, they realized he needed a full-scale transplant.

"His heart was so deteriorated already," Matt said.

But there was good news. The enlarged heart ended up being a blessing in disguise, Matt said. Gordo's chest cavity was big enough to hold an adult-sized artificial heart -- the only size available.

"An artificial heart or an artificial pump can be used on the right side of the heart, which helps bring the blood from the body and send it to the lungs, because the right side of the heart's not able to do the job," Dr. Schuster said.

"I saw the doctor when she got out of surgery," Matt said. "She smiled at me and she put her thumbs up and I cried. And I ran to her and I gave her a hug."

Gordo's Facebook group has 222 members, including his mom, who posted an update Friday from Dallas, saying Gordo had opened his "beautiful brown eyes."

Doctors will keep Gordo's chest cavity open until Sunday to prevent cardiac arrest, Matt said.

Gordo is currently on the waiting list for a real heart. Matt will stay with Gordo in Dallas until one comes available, after which Gordo will need to spend at least a year in Dallas for more recovery and monitoring.

"Everything's just paper," Matt said. "My son's the world to me."

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