Jodie Lansdale wept for her baby daughter when the ward sister suggested she was read the last rites. Little Claudia Twiby had been admitted to Guy's hospital in London suffering serious cardiovascular problems, and hope was fading fast.

But four months on, Claudia is a happy and healthy toddler, thanks to a revolutionary mechanical "piggyback heart", which saved her life until a transplant organ could be found.

Yesterday, the family spoke publicly for the first time about the pioneering operation, known as the Berlin heart procedure, which was responsible for Claudia's survival.

Now back with her parents, 32-year-old Ms Lansdale and her partner Shaun Twiby, 42, in Brighton, Claudia was said to be the "happy and smiling" little girl she was before her problems began.

Claudia, who is now 18 months old, was only the second infant to be fitted with a Berlin heart at Great Ormond Street Hospital, in London, which first carried out the operation in November 2004.

The ground-breaking, German-designed artificial pump takes over the functions of the patient's ailing heart until doctors can find a suitable donor organ.

Four weeks after being fitted with the Berlin heart on 1 November, a suitable organ was found for Claudia, and she was operated on the next day.

"We felt very lucky that she got the heart so quickly," said Ms Lansdale. "There is a shortage of organs, particularly for small children."