LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Norton Children's Heart Institute is celebrating what it said is a medical first for the United States: the life-saving implantation of a tiny pacemaker into the chest of a 28-week-old infant.

According to a news release from the hospital Thursday, the infant was born with congenital structural heart defects and complete atrioventricular block that led to a slow heart rate. A team from Norton Children's Heart Institute, affiliated with the University of Louisville School of Medicine, determined that the patient was too small for the traditional path of care and instead performed the first known human implantation of a tiny pacemaker into a premature infant.

"It is remarkable how our team of pediatric specialists came together with the device company to offer a resolution for such a small patient weighing less than three pounds at the time of implant," Soham Dasgupta, M.D., a pediatric electrophysiologist for Norton Children's Heart Institute and an assistant professor of pediatric cardiology at UofL, said in a statement. "This unique case is unlike any other and we are so pleased to see this patient thriving as a result of the innovative approach."

The hospital said the normal treatment for an infant born with this condition is to wait until the infant reaches a weight of 4 1/2 to 5- 1/2 pounds. But in this case, the procedure could not be delayed.

"In this instance, the patient was not of the optimal size and medical/conservative management was unsuccessful, so a specially modified pediatric-sized pacemaker, also known as an implantable pulse generator (IPG) created by Medtronic was used," Dasgupta said.

Doctors were able to utilize research that took place when a similar device had been implanted into an adult Yucatan miniature pig, an animal with a heart that resembles a child's heart.

Christopher L. Johnsrude, M.D., director of pediatric and adult congenital electrophysiology and an associate professor of pediatric cardiology UofL, also reviewed the research.

The open-heart surgery was completed in two hours, and the device measures 1.16 by 0.65 by 0.38 inches and weighs 0.18 ounces.

"While the operative steps might be comparative to the usual pacemaker implantation surgery, this surgery was especially delicate due to the very small size of the baby," Bahaaldin Alsoufi, M.D., chief of pediatric surgery and co-director of Norton Children's Heart Institute as well as a professor of cardiothoracic surgery at UofL, said in a statement. "This tiny pacemaker generator was positioned in the abdominal wall on the right side and was connected to the usual leads that were attached to the heart. This novel device will provide the necessary support that the baby currently needs. At time of repair of the patient's congenital heart defect in the future, we will be able to utilize these same leads and likely connect them to a traditional larger pacemaker generator."

To date, the patient is doing well and continues to receive care from specialists at Norton Children's Heart Institute.

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