Pediatric surgery

UW doctor's invention helped save baby's life

Baby Fabian, smiling.

Baby Fabian Serna’s parents were almost ready to take their precious newborn home from the hospital when they got some shocking news.

Fabian’s oxygen saturation in his blood had fallen to less than 50%, dangerously below the normal range of 95% to 100%.

Fabian looked fine and his breathing seemed normal, but something was clearly wrong. He was diagnosed with D-Transposition of the Great Arteries, a major heart defect that limits blood flow from lungs to the body.

On his 7th day of life, UW Health Kids heart surgeons Dr. Petros Anagnostopoulos and Dr. Josh Hermsen performed a complicated “arterial switch” operation to allow the blood to flow freely to both the lungs and the body. While the surgery went well, it’s not unusual for a baby’s heart to get out of rhythm after this lifesaving open-heart surgery. If this happens, every minute becomes precious, and Fabian had such an episode when his heart’s upper chambers began beating very rapidly.

Fortunately, a device known as AtriAmp allowed UW Health Kids cardiologists to continuously monitor Fabian’s heart rhythm in real time – something that has not been possible until recently. Invented in 2017 by Dr. Nick Von Bergen, a UW Health Kids cardiologist, the AtriAmp shows more accurate heart rhythm diagnoses for children following heart surgery. By doing so, AtriAmp helps children like Fabian get the care they need almost instantly.

Fabian’s prognosis is excellent. Moreover, Von Bergen’s invention, manufactured by a Madison-based company called Atrility Medical, is being adopted in children’s hospitals nationwide.

“Dr. Von Bergen identified an unmet need in his own practice and, with his team, built a solution to improve the level of care available to patients,” says Elizabeth Hagerman, UW Health’s chief innovation officer and executive director of Isthmus Project, which invested in the AtriAmp project. “It’s rewarding to see an invention developed by our own experts at UW Health leading directly to better patient outcomes.”