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Stem Cell Treatment Gives Hope For Infants Born With Heart Defect

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Doctors in Los Angeles are using stem cells to try to strengthen the hearts of children born with a life-threatening condition. Doctors believe the groundbreaking trial could help these patients lead much longer lives.

"You breathe a sigh of relief when you hear her breathe," Eva Weiler said of her daughter, Alise.

Weiler was 20 weeks into her pregnancy when doctors diagnosed her then-unborn daughter with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, commonly called HLHS.

"She has half of a heart. Her left ventricle really doesn't exist," Weiler said. "The diagnosis is devastating, and you look for anything that's gonna give you hope."

Children with HLHS typically undergo three surgeries that allow the developed side of their heart to pump blood to the entire body, but by early adulthood, the heart starts to fail.

So doctors at Children's Hospital Los Angeles are trying something new; collecting the baby's cord blood at birth to gather stem cells.

Dr. Ram Kumar Subrmanyan said, when a child with HLHS child undergoes their second surgery, "We're going to inject stem cells into the right ventricle."

Subrmanyan believes injecting the stem cells directly into the heart will help stimulate muscle growth, making it stronger.

"The hope is that this will delay, or even prevent heart failure in this subset of patients," he said.

Researchers said, so far, they're seeing positive results in children who received the injections as part of a clinical trial.

Weiler is hopeful it will make a difference for her newborn daughter.

"I want to give her every possible chance that I can," she said.

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