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5th November 2015

Little Darth Vader comes out of heart surgeries with his powers intact

Max Page is only ten years old, but he could give the Jedi Knights a run for their money despite the rare heart condition that he’s had since birth.

The American actor, who rose to fame after he portrayed a ‘mini’ Darth Vader in a 2011 TV advert that went viral, was born with four defects in his heart ‒ a condition called Tetralogy of Fallot. It affects the normal flow of blood through the heart and occurs in about five out of every 10,000 babies.1 Max underwent his first surgery when he was just three months old and has had ten operations since, but that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing a successful acting career and, more importantly, being a regular kid.

Max’s mum Jennifer is thankful for the medical procedures and technology that have given her son a chance to live like most other kids his age. “As parents, we are grateful that the technologies available today allow Max to lead a fairly normal life. He certainly can do most activities he wants to. Because of the tremendous strides, he is able to have energy and participate in life. He has had two pulmonary valves and four pacemakers ‒ so he is alive and thriving because of technology,” she told This Is Medtech.

That’s not to say things have been easy. In the summer, after suffering from fatigue and exhaustion, Max was diagnosed with yet another condition called conduit stenosis. The blood flow from his heart into his lungs was being restricted due to a narrowing of his pulmonary valve, which had been surgically implanted a few years earlier. This led to an unexpected operation in July to widen the artificial valve using a new type of valve that makes it easier for the heart to do its job.

Doctors at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) where Max had the operation compared the procedure to clearing an accident on a freeway to open up all the lanes for traffic. The special valve they used was delivered to the heart via a thin, hollow tube (catheter) that was inserted into a leg vein, meaning Max was able to avoid open heart surgery.

CHLA documented and explained the procedure in a brief video on the day of the surgery. It gives insight into just how brave Max is. “What’s different this time is that I’m older and I understand more. That means I understand that there’s a good chance of me getting through, but there’s also a risk. I’m a little bit tense and nervous, but I know that the doctors are going to do great, and there’s nothing really to worry about,” he says to the camera matter-of-factly. And indeed they did. Max walked out of the hospital the next day and was soon back to most of his daily activities.

Only 34 days later, however, he returned to the hospital for a previously scheduled operation to replace his existing pacemaker pulse generator, which is implanted in Max’s abdominal wall and keeps track of his heart rhythm through electrodes that are sewn to the heart. The pulse generator stimulates the heart muscle with an electrical impulse to maintain the appropriate heart rate for whatever activity Max is doing at the time. It runs on batteries and needs to be switched out with a new device every five to seven years.

Jennifer says Max is recovering from the recent surgeries right on schedule. “He can act, play baseball and golf. After January 1st, he can add amusement parks and full activity. His new pulmonary valve needs time to secure itself. He has fully recovered from the pacemaker surgery and has no more limitations due to that,” she explains.

As if he hasn’t been through enough, Max is also working to raise funds for a brand new surgery suite at CHLA that will improve heart surgeries for thousands of kids.

1.National Institutes of Health, What is Tetralogy of Fallot?, 1 July 2011

About the header picture: “Darth Vader” by oswaldo; Source:Flickr Creative Commons; License: CC BY 2.0

About the article picture: courtesy of CHLA