Giving Kids With Heart Failure a Brighter Future

Katrina Sellens was 14 when a heart pump saved her life. With FDA approval, more kids can benefit from HeartMate 3.

Katrina Sellens plays with her dog

Healthy Heart|Dec.17, 2020

NOTE TO READERS: Katrina Sellens passed away on July 8, 2021, following a battle with cancer. Abbott is grateful that our technology was able to help extend her too-short life. We're proud to bring you her story and share the indelible impact she made on the lives of her family and friends and all those who knew and loved her. We'll never forget her.

A few years ago, Katrina Sellens — 14 and hungry for Thanksgiving leftovers — stood there in a familiar spot: Surveying the fridge for something to eat.

What happened next was also recognizable to Katrina and her family.

She passed out.

Her fainting started when she was 7. By that point, she'd lived with the spells for half of her life. Still, Katrina had always been "very, very active," said her mother Maria. Roller skating and tennis, horseback riding and camping. A happy kid.

Regular as her fainting had become, this time was different. Very different.

"I was so tired, 24/7," Katrina said. "It really hit when I was 14 years old."

How to Help a Kid With Heart Failure
She found herself unable to walk 10 feet without becoming completely exhausted, struggling to catch her breath. Though she'd never been diagnosed with heart issues, her doctors identified progressing heart failure. It advanced quickly, her weakened heart struggling to pump blood adequately to meet her body's needs. What they thought was a respiratory infection was something much more serious. Doctors told Maria: "That's not pneumonia. That's fluid buildup because her heart's not working right."

Something needed to be done. Immediately.

Given the progression of Katrina's heart failure, waiting for a heart transplant wasn't a viable option. What else could doctors do for a kid with her whole life ahead?

"As physicians, we appreciate the fear in the eyes of not only the child, but also the mothers and fathers," said Robert L. Kormos, M.D., divisional vice president, global medical affairs, Abbott's heart failure business.

Because Katrina's life-threatening condition was rapidly worsening, her doctors chose to implant a HeartMate 3 Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) , commonly called a heart pump. At the time, it was only approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in adults.

And she was just 14.

Katrina's HeartMate 3 assists her heart as it pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout her body, allowing her to fully live again. Its compact design has had an outsized impact on her life. She’s steadily regained her strength. Now 16, she’s back to doing the normal things a teenager does, like learning to drive. "Our house has kind of gone back to a bit of normalcy," Maria said.

"Almost immediately, we began seeing improvement."

"Feels like I can do so much stuff I love to do," Katrina said, including playing with her pooch Roxie. "I'm feeling amazing today."

Now, More Children Will Benefit
While Katrina's circumstances were extraordinary, the FDA has approved an updated labeling for the HeartMate 3 to include pediatric patients with advanced heart failure.

The FDA's approval gives physicians additional options for treating children and teens waiting for a heart transplant as well as those not eligible to receive a transplant.

"Imagine a child who cannot dream about the future because a heart that does not allow them to play with friends, sing or run," Kormos said. "Innovations such as the HeartMate 3 can lessen the crippling effects of heart failure and allow that child to live a normal life."

The Weight of the Wait
The Weight of the Wait

Now a high school sophomore, Katrina is already looking to help others in similar situations and dreams of becoming an LVAD nurse. It's her way of giving thanks to those who helped her.

"She wants other children and teens to know that no matter what happens, you get up, dust yourself off and keep walking," Maria said. "If she could do it, she wants to help others get through it as well."

It's an experience she's certainly familiar with. One she's seen up close. Like looking through the fridge for leftovers on Thanksgiving, there's hope there.

"For it to help people and children — children! — in that manner?" Maria said before pausing to gather herself. "There's just no words."



One St. Jude Medical Dr., St. Paul, MN 55117 USA, Tel: 1 651 756 2000
Rx Only
Brief Summary: Prior to using these devices, please review the Instructions for Use for a complete listing of indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, potential adverse events and directions for use.
HeartMate 3™ LVAS Indications: The HeartMate 3™ Left Ventricular Assist System is indicated for providing short- and long-term mechanical circulatory support (e.g., as bridge to transplant or myocardial recovery, or destination therapy) in adult and pediatric patients with advanced refractory left ventricular heart failure and with an appropriate body surface area.
HeartMate 3™ LVAS Contraindications: The HeartMate 3 Left Ventricular Assist System is contraindicated for patients who cannot tolerate, or who are allergic to, anticoagulation therapy.
HeartMate 3™ LVAS Adverse Events: Adverse events that may be associated with the use of the HeartMate 3 Left Ventricular Assist System are: death, bleeding, cardiac arrhythmia, localized infection, right heart failure, respiratory failure, device malfunctions, driveline infection, renal dysfunction, sepsis, stroke, other neurological event (not stroke-related), hepatic dysfunction, psychiatric episode, venous thromboembolism, hypertension, arterial non-central nervous system (CNS) thromboembolism, pericardial fluid collection, pump pocket or pseudo pocket infection, myocardial infarction, wound dehiscence, hemolysis (not associated with suspected device thrombosis) or pump thrombosis.
™ Indicates a trademark of the Abbott group of companies.
‡ Indicates a third party trademark, which is property of its respective owner.
© 2020 Abbott. All Rights Reserved.
MAT-2012537 v1.0 | Item approved for U.S. use only.