Life-saving device supports infant while awaiting a heart transplant


Dell Children’s Medical Center, part of Ascension, and UT Health Austin, the clinical practice of Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, announce the hospital’s first Berlin Heart Ventricular Assist Device implanted in a three-month-old on January 11. The Berlin Heart is used to take over the function of a small child’s own heart when it becomes too weak to pump sufficient amounts of blood to the lungs or throughout their body. The Berlin Heart supports patients in heart failure and offers a bridge to life for a child awaiting a heart transplant. 

Three-month-old Zaria Grace Jackson arrived at Dell Children’s emergency department on January 8, presenting symptoms and signs of heart failure, and was quickly admitted to the pediatric cardiac care unit. Zaria’s cardiac condition rapidly deteriorated, and the cardiac team determined Zaria’s best chance for survival was a Berlin Heart. The cause of Zaria’s heart failure is uncertain. 

“The Berlin Heart is a ventricular assist device (VAD) designed specifically for children in heart failure awaiting a heart transplant,” said Dr. Charles Fraser, chief of Pediatric and Congenital Surgery for UT Health Austin’s Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease at Dell Children’s. “Zaria can live with the support of the Berlin Heart for an extended period, while we wait on a donor heart.” 


“I was in disbelief at first, but this is a life-saving device,” said Olivia Guthrie, Zaria’s mother. “We are so grateful that we did not have to travel to Houston or Dallas for Zaria’s critical care.” 

The eight-hour surgery was possible thanks to the knowledge and experience of two transplant experts, Dr. Charles Fraser and Dr. Ziyad Binsalamah.

Dr. Ziyad Binsalamah is the new surgical director of Heart Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support at Dell Children’s. The Berlin Heart surgery took place just one day after Dr. Binsalamah’s arrival at Dell Children’s. 

“I trained with Dr. Fraser and Dr. Carlos Mery, and we know each other very well. I came to Dell Children’s to be part of one of the best transplant programs in the country,” said Dr. Binsalamah. “I am also excited to be part of the collaboration between Dell Children’s, UT Health Austin, and Dell Medical School with the goal of working on innovative heart implant devices and academic research.” 

Dell Children’s heart transplant team is led by pediatric heart surgeons Dr. Charles Fraser, Dr. Ziyad Binsalamah, Dr. Carlos Mery, surgical director of the Heart Transplant Program, and Dr. Ziv Beckerman, pediatric heart surgeon. Dr. Chesney Castleberry, medical director of the Pediatric Heart Failure and Transplant Program, is the pediatric heart muscle disease specialist caring for the heart transplant recipients like Zaria. 

“The whole team is engaged in her care, from social workers to transplant coordinators. We are helping the family get through this with the best possible outcome,” said Dr. Castleberry. 

A convergence of expertise at Dell Children’s made this life-saving option possible. The pediatric heart program would not be possible without the clinical partnership between Dell Children’s and UT Health Austin, which has allowed for recruitment of top clinical leaders for complex surgeries.