PALO ALTO, Calif. - A teenager is getting used to his new heart after a transplant at Stanford Hospital.
Growing up in a family of nine children Abraham Maga was always on the move, until recently.
"I was just sitting down and out of nowhere my heart started beating fast. It felt like I couldn't breathe," Abraham remembers.
Rushed to a Fresno hospital, Abraham ended up on life support and ultimately, heading to Stanford. Dr. Joseph Woo M.D., Professor and Chair of Cardiothoracic Surgery says he was in grave danger by the time he arrived.
"His heart and his lungs had failed, and he would have died very quickly," says Dr. Joseph Woo,
Their challenge was to keep Abraham alive long enough to receive a heart transplant. That wait would ultimately push the Stanford team into uncharted territory.
The temporary solution was a machine known as a ECMO, which essentially takes over the function of the both the heart and lungs. Cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Richard Ha, M.D. says it's typically connected through the chest or an artery in the leg leaving the patient unable to move around. But with Abraham's deteriorating condition they knew that could be trouble.
"Because patients they don't do well if they're just lying in bed," says Dr. Ha.
Instead, using his own cutting edge technique, Dr. Ha connected the ECMO directly to Abraham's heart by running the tube through his ribs. The result was so successful, it allowed Abraham to get out of bed, and much more.
"And we took him outside, and that was a first for us taking a patient on ECMO outside," Dr. Ha remembers.
The exercise turned out to be critical. Instead of weeks, Abraham would wait nearly four months for a suitable heart, being kept alive by the ECMO.
"Which is a record for us for sure, and as far as I know one of the longest times in the country of being on this type of support," Dr. Ha believes.
But instead of deteriorating, doctors say Abraham grew stronger.
"So that when a heart finally became available, he was really strong. He was in the best shape he could be in," notes Dr. Woo.
Abraham received his new heart in December, just in time for his 18th birthday. He's now looking forward to heading home with his mom and pouring his whole heart into his dreams.
"I'm looking forward to college after high school and studying architecture," says Abraham.
Written and produced by Tim Didion.