Doctors from Rome's Bambino Gesu Children's Hospital have saved the life of a 16-month-old baby boy by implanting the world's smallest artificial heart.
Doctors said the operation was carried out at the end of March, almost two months later the baby is doing well.
The identity of the child has not been disclosed but doctors say he weighed only 5.5 kilograms (12.1 lb) when the operation took place.
Doctors decided on the need for the heart implant because the baby was suffering from dilated myocardiopathy, a heart muscle disease which normally causes stretched or enlarged fibers of the heart.
The disease gradually makes the heart weaker stopping its ability to pump blood affectively around the body.
The child also had a serious infection around the mechanical pump or ventricular assistance device that had been fitted earlier to support the heart function.
The tiny titanium implanted heart weighed only 11 grams and could endure a blood flow of 1.5 litres a minute. An artificial heart for adults normally weighs 900 grams.
The implant procedure allowed the baby to survive for thirteen days until a permanent heart donation was implanted.
"From a surgical point of view this was not really difficult," said heart surgeon Antonio Amodeo who carried out the operation.
"The only difficulty that we have met is that the child was operated on several times before. So we had to enter at the apex of the left ventricle for the third time and this was the real difficulty" Amodeo said.
Doctors at the Rome hospital said the device, invented by American Professor Robert Jarvik, had only ever been tested on animals before they carried out their procedure.
The hospital needed special permission from Jarvik and the Italian health ministry before going ahead. But for the medical team involved going this extra mile was the only option available to them."The reason is very simple" Amodeo said.
"The patient was in our intensive care unit since one month of age. So he was a mascot for us, he was one of us. Every day, every hour for more than one year he was with us. So when we had a problem we couldn't do anything more than the best, as much as we can. So that's why we have been pushing so hard to do what has never been done before" he said.
Doctors are convinced that the success of this operation could lead to the artificial heart becoming a permanent transplant option in the future.
"This is a milestone because it can be possible now to have permanent implantable devices" Amodeo said.
"....so far this device has been utilised as a bridge to transplantation but we can imagine that in the near future it can be utilised as a permanent implanted device" he said.
A third of children treated with dilated myocardiopathy recover from the disease, with another third managing to stabilize following treatment. In some children the disease becomes worse over time but doctors hope with this kind of treatment now on the horizon prospects of survival and leading a normal life will increase massively.