(CINCINNATI) -- Although he made it to 29 years old with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Jason Williams was not expected to survive more than another year.
But this week, doctors announced that Williams no longer has an expiration date. Thanks to a groundbreaking surgery that's never been performed on a Duchenne patient in the United States before, there's no telling how many more birthdays he'll be around for.
"The most important thing this device has given him is hope, because without it, we know what's going to happen," said heart surgeon Dr. David Morales, who implanted Williams' Left Ventricular Assist Device, or LVAD, on Sept. 5 with a team of doctors at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is an inherited disease characterized by progressive muscle weakness because of a mutated protein gene. It only affects boys, and usually sets in when the child is between 2 and 6 years old, first confining the child to a wheelchair and ultimately weakening his heart and killing him by his late teens or early 20s.
"He's going to be with us longer than we ever anticipated he would be," said Williams' mother, Karen Jones, as she stood next to her son, who wore a Cincinnati Reds T-shirt and Cincinnati Bengals pants during the news conference.
Williams gazed out at the crowd from his wheelchair, puffing from a tube to help him breathe. When reporters asked what he was looking forward to, he told them: the Reds.
Williams was diagnosed when he was 7 years old, and has been a patient at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, 70 miles away from his home in Peeble, Ohio, ever since.
When his doctors asked him to be the first Duchenne patient to receive a LVAD to help his weakened heart muscle pump blood to the rest of his body long-term, he delved into research before deciding to commit.
"I just thought it might improve my health," he said in a telephone interview the night before the conference. During the conference, he added, "I wanted what would give me more energy."
Adding to that motivation, Williams' younger cousin has the same disease, his mother said. Experimental surgery on Williams could mean progress for his cousin and other younger boys with Duchenne. About 2,500 boys are born with Duchenne every year.
Although LVADs are often temporarily implanted while patients await heart transplants, something Duchenne patients are not eligible for, doctors hope to use LVADs in patients like Williams until stem cell therapy becomes a reality. Doctors will study how the LVAD affects the right side of Williams' weakened heart and how the availability of better blood flow to the rest of his tissue improves or prevents his condition from progressing.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio