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Groundbreaking procedure helps 11-year-old heart patient

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SALT LAKE CITY — A groundbreaking procedure, which was recently performed at Primary Children's Hospital, could change the way children all over the world are treated for certain heart defects.

When 11-year-old Josh Willis of West Point arrived at Primary's a few weeks ago he was too weak to walk and too weak for another open-heart surgery. But now, thanks to doctors thinking outside the box, he's getting ready to head back to school.

Willis has faced 11 years of hospital visits and tests, five open-heart surgeries and an endless number of oxygen tubes. He was born with a congenital heart defect called Taussig-Bing anomaly where the arteries in his heart develop in the wrong place.

Over the years he's had surgery after surgery trying to fix the problems caused by it.

Three weeks ago the aortic valve in Willis’ heart became blocked. He needed open-heart surgery but was too weak, so Dr. Robert Gray came up with a new plan: Insert a transcatheter valve into his heart to open the artery.

The procedure had never been preformed at Primary Children's, and on only a few children around the world: “We got emergency clearance to use the valve and bring the technology here to Primary Children’s,” Gray said.

With the help of Intermountain Medical Center's Dr. Brian Whisenant, who is currently running a study on the valve, Willis underwent the two-hour procedure to insert the transcatheter. What happened next exceeded all expectation: “He was eating dinner and watching TV a few hours later,” Gray explained.

With this groundbreaking procedure, Willis will now have time to get stronger and time to be a kid. That’s a relief to his mother Jaime Willis, who has documented his journey since birth.

“I hope one day you will read this and know how strong you were and what a fighter you are. You beat all odds. Love you. Mom,” she read.

“He was so sick when he came in that I think if we didn’t do this, there was a super-high chance he would have had a lot of complications and that he would probably still be here in the hospital recovering," Gray said.


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