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Wednesday, August 01, 2012 | |  Cardiomyopathy in the News

Aisha Rivera needs to undergo a second heart transplant for her third lease on life. And she is only 20 years old.

The Hamburg woman underwent her first heart transplant at age 10 in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center after experiencing cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, according to her fiancé, Dennis Brown. He and Rivera's mother, Ana, have been at Rivera's side every day since the petite young woman was transported by Mercy Flight about three weeks ago from Buffalo General Hospital to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.

There she remained, sedated and hooked up to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation device until about a week ago. That's when she underwent an unconventional surgery intended to sustain her until a suitable heart donor is found.

"They used this machine to save her life initially when she went into cardiac arrest and had to leave her on it to buy time for a plan," Brown explained in a recent email.

"Her best option would have been to get a heart, but since a heart didn't come in time and the fact that she may have to wait months and months, maybe even years, for a heart, the doctors had to do something."

What doctors did was implant two artificial heart pumps to give her failing, 10-year-old transplanted heart a lift. Brown said doctors at Strong Memorial had to get permission from the inventor of the device, Dr. Robert Jarvik, to use the patented Jarvik 2000 artificial heart pump in a way that it had never before been used.

"Because this was the only way they could save Aisha's life, it was approved, and Dr. Jarvik himself came to Rochester to assist in the surgery. The surgery took close to 10 hours and was a success," Brown said.

Rivera's most recent bout with heart troubles began about two months ago, after she told family she was experiencing fatigue and shortness of breath.

"She started to get better, and they let her come home [June 26] ... but she got really sick after that," Brown said, noting that Rivera had begun to experience congestive heart failure.

Once she arrived at Strong Memorial Hospital, Rivera went into cardiac arrest for three minutes before doctors were able to stabilize her.

"She was sedated for quite a while after that," Brown said.

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