Wisconsin teen is image of hope for children with cardiac failure

Berlin Heart kept him alive until transplant

To watch Vincent Forseth hit shot after shot on the driving range at Vitense Golfland you would never guess how close he came to death 11 years ago. He has become an image of hope for parents of children dealing with heart failure.

In 2006, Vincent was rushed to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin with acute heart failure.

He was born with two holes in his heart, but surgery had corrected the problem when he was 4-and-half months old.

“When we were following that ambulance down, we’ve never felt so alone and so scared in our lives,” said Terry Forseth, Vincent’s father.

When Vincent arrived at the hospital, doctors put him on the heart transplant waiting list but were concerned he would not live long enough to see that happen.

“Vincent came to us desperately ill,” said Maryann Kessel, executive development director of the Herma Heart Center and Vincent’s nurse 11 years ago.

To save Vincent, doctors needed to come up with a way to keep him alive for what could be an extended period. A device called the “Berlin Heart” was Vincent’s best hope, but it was not FDA-approved at the time. Developed in Germany, and used in other countries, the Berlin Heart substituted for a human heart by pumping blood throughout the body.

“So we sat down, and I’ll never forget that day sitting down with Terry and Dawn Forseth, and saying, ‘We have an idea. You’re going to have to trust us'” Kessel said.

The family placed its trust in the medical team at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and plans were put in place to put Vincent on the Berlin Heart.

Doctors asked for and received a compassionate-use exemption from the FDA to use the Berlin Heart.

Because the procedure had not been done before on a patient in the Midwest, doctors from Germany flew to Milwaukee to help with the surgery.

The Berlin Heart kept Vincent alive for the three-and-half weeks it took to find a heart. The Berlin Heart is in many ways a bridge to life.

“That is exactly what it is, a bridge to an opportunity to get a heart and a bridge to life,” said Dr. Michael Mitchell, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

The Berlin Heart is now an FDA approved treatment. It is now used several times a year at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin to save the lives of patients in cardiac failure.

“Without the Berlin Heart, I wouldn’t be here,” Vincent Forseth said.