A childhood with an artificial heart

Kids are active: they love to play, and they discover new things each day. But sadly, for kids with cardiac insufficiency, everyday life looks very differently: Their circulation is provided poorly with oxygen and nutrients. To fight the heart failure, the therapy begins with a medical treatment – which does not always take effect with critically ill patients. At their young age, they need to wait for a donor heart. Because of long heart transplant waiting lists, there is a solution to bridge the long latency: Ventricular assist devices.

The device consists of an extracorporeal blood pump and a power unit. The blood pump is permanently connected to the patient’s natural heart and is also constantly attached to the power unit: there is always a connection between the children, a hose and the big unit. Therefore, young patients are tied to a fixed spot and cannot walk around and play freely like other kids – and especially infants do not even fully understand why. To respect the children’s needs, the company Berlin Heart developed the unit EXCOR® Active: the new unit enables young humans to move more freely. We contributed to this tremendous flexibility with our core discipline Industrial Design.

EXCOR® Active – first application at the German Heart Institute in Berlin in 2020

User-friendly “world sensation”

A high level of press coverage about the new system points out the topic’s meaning and its public interest. From the German Doctor Publishing to daily papers: several editorial offices broached the issue of the new unit and titled it for instance as “world sensation” (BILD).

This is not surprising: the new unit implicates many crucial advantages over the old unity. The mobile device enables children to go on trips and walks around the clinic area with their families. With the size of a hand baggage, the system can be fixed to a caddy or a baby buggy – depending on the kid’s age. More mobility and safety on trips thanks to rechargeable batteries: The battery lifetime is between five to seven hours instead of the former 30 minutes.

There is more battery backup through additional batteries and even an emergency battery that is integrated in the power unit. EXCOR® Active disposes spindle drives with shaft joint, which can substitute each other’s function in case of a technical error. The batteries can be charged within the unit and, additionally, in an external charging station. Both systems show the state of charge anytime. An extensive flexible handling is possible because of the unit’s weight: the mobile unit only weighs 15 kg instead of 95 kg, that humans must deal with as an inpatient.

The new manageable system allows a usage for laypersons, even outside the clinic. But the medical care is also made easier inside the clinic. An ultrasonic sensor enables blood flow measuring. It even adds to an alarm- and intervention management, as technical and clinical data is permanently supervised and compared to the patient’s individual presetting. A panel PC with a touchscreen stores important information and vital data, which can be looked at anytime. It therefore contributes to the user-friendly handling of the system.

EXCOR® Active ventricular assist device – it only weighs 15 kg!

Crucial contribution to the quality of life

The unit’s design is essential for its application. A friendly appearance is important – especially important for kids in their everyday life at the clinic. Instead of a big, bulky machine, they can now be connected to a small unit, whose surface is intentionally designed to be sturdy and with rounded edges.

Daily routines of cardiac children and their families are stamped by the illness. That is why we were particularly motivated to make a contribution to a more flexible everyday life of young families. Aside from our motivation, we were specifically aware about the design’s value: the exquisite device is classified as a high-risk technology and therefore our work was about far more than just a friendly appearance. Despite the multitude of technical and security-relevant requirements that we implemented, we could help shape a real sensitive and user-friendly design.

EXCOR® Active and buggy

Despite their clinic stay and artificial heart, EXCOR® Active enables patients to walk, to play and to enjoy nature. Age-based growth during therapy is being supported that way, especially with infants. Optimized product features and thereby gained mobility help to relieve children, parents, and clinic staff and improve concerned families’ quality of life.

We are happy that our intensive design input now helps to improve the lives of many little humans.

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Jule writes about design processes and our medical design projects.

Originally written by Jule Opp, 27. October 2020. Last updated 14. April 2021


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