Health Beat

Health Beat: Exparel: Helping girl heal pain-free

MIAMI - Jessica Garcia was born with a hole in her heart.

"When I was born, they told my parents that I probably wouldn't make it a week, or a month or anything," said Garcia, a heart surgery patient.

At age 13, Garcia needed surgery to repair the ventricular septal defect, or VSD.

"I was down for it. I was totally cool about it," Garcia stated.

"We're actually seeing an increasing number of children, not only neonates and infants, toddlers and children, adolescents who require open heart surgery," said Dr. Kristine Guleserian, a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon at Nicklaus Children's Hospital.

Guleserian said most parents have the same concerns: "Is my child going to be OK? Are they going to be in pain after surgery?"

Now, doctors have a new weapon in the fight against post-surgical pain in children. It's called Exparel.

"It's a local analgesic that we can inject in and around the incision after we have completed the open-heart procedure," Guleserian explained.

The medication then slowly releases over three days. Surgeons are calling Exparel a real game-changer.

"It will reduce the need for supplemental analgesics, particularly opioid analgesics," said Dr. Christopher Tirotta, the director of cardiac anesthesia at Nicklaus Children's Hospital.

Garcia was the first patient at Nicklaus Children's Hospital to receive Exparel after her heart surgery. The next day, she woke up smiling.

"That day, I wanted to run, walk, do everything. I told my parents can I get up from the bed. I'm tired of the bed," Garcia said.

With the operation behind her, Garcia is back to being a busy teenager.

"It's unreal to me how easy I got out of this and how thankful I am," she said.

Garcia said she wants to become a doctor when she grows up. Already FDA-approved for adults, Exparel is being used "off-label" for kids now, if over 12, since it is not FDA-approved for children.

Doctors said they hope it will soon become the gold-standard in post-operative pain control for children nationwide.

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