Unique treatment method offers hope to child with severe pulmonary hypertension

When Danny Martinez came to Boston from Florida he was very sick. At the time the young boy was suffering from severe pulmonary hypertension, a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries in the lungs and the right side of the heart.

Because Danny’s pulmonary hypertension was so serious doctors in his home state were unsure of how to save him. Along with his parents they arranged it so he could be transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital where he could receive care from the Pulmonary Hypertension Program. As one of the leading pulmonary hypertension programs in the world, Danny’s new team included cardiologists, radiologists and pulmonologists, each with a specific skill for helping children with pulmonary hypertension.

After careful examination it became evident that Danny would need a lung transplant to live. However, at the time he was too critically ill to survive until the operation. To keep him alive until the surgery the Pulmonary Hypertension team devised an innovative treatment plan that would act as a bridge to lung transplant.

A new approach to treatment

To support his lungs, Danny was fitted with a Quadrox membrane oxygenator, a special lung-assist device that adds oxygen to the blood in the same way a healthy pair of lungs would. This device is almost always used as part of an ECMO machine, a special therapy doctors sometimes use to support a critically ill child.  But Danny only needed lung assistance, not full ECMO, so his doctors created a way to take the Quadrox device out of the ECMO process. This allowed the young boy to receive the lung assistance he required, without subjecting him to risks associated with ECMO. And Danny could remain awake, alert and able to move and interact with his parents and caregivers while the Quadrox supplied his blood with oxygen.

“Having him conscious while we waited for the donor lungs was such a blessing,” says his mother Fannie. “Waiting for a new organ is always going to be hard on a family. Having Danny with us while we waited made a difficult time that much easier.”

Danny spent three months with the Quadrox, which his team says played a critical role in keeping him alive and getting his body strong enough to undergo the lung transplant surgery he eventually received. It was the first time Boston Children’s used a Quadrox membrane as a bridge to transplant outside of ECMO, successfully sustaining a patient with severe pulmonary hypertension.

Using the Quadrox was a novel way to solve a truly critical clinical problem, and the result of carefully coordinated teamwork. Each member of Danny’s care team recognizes the outcome was the result of a unique case and a full group of specialists—with access to the right technology—working together.