Rare Heart Transplant Surgery Gives Newborn a Second Chance at Life
As a parent, your child’s laughter can make all of your worries vanish in an instant.
So when 8-month-old Ella Kate broke out into tender giggles just days after a rare heart transplant surgery, it was a welcomed sign of hope for her family and all the doctors and nurses who helped save her life.
Rough Start, Happy Ending
When Ella Kate was born, she didn’t breathe for eight minutes and was quickly airlifted to Carolinas HealthCare System’s Levine Children’s Hospital.
Hours later, her parents learned their newborn daughter might not survive because of tumors found throughout her tiny, walnut-sized heart.
But the feisty little girl did survive. And a team of doctors began a months-long journey to keep Ella Kate alive. After ruling out cancer, focus shifted to treating Ella Kate’s failing heart.
Prayer Paves the Path to Heart Transplant
Ella Kate’s health continued to get worse and doctors agreed a heart transplant was her only hope of survival. She was added to the transplant waiting list in November 2016.
“We enjoyed Christmas at home, but we were very ready for her new heart,” says Melanie Leitner, Ella Kate’s mom. “Then, one Sunday morning at church, the pastor asked the congregation to pray for us because Ella Kate was not doing well.”
On the way home, the Leitners got the phone call they’d been waiting for: A heart had become available.
Doctors Make Hospital History
For heart transplants to have a chance of success, it’s critical that the blood types are compatible between donors and recipients. Most patients can only accept hearts from compatible donors. But 10 percent of children 2 and younger can accept hearts from all blood types, allowing an opportunity for transplants from mismatched donors.
“Ella Kate was fortunate to be among that 10 percent, and this opened the door for us to perform the first pediatric ABO-incompatible heart transplant surgery in our hospital’s history,” says Ella Kate’s doctor, Gonzalo Wallis, MD, a pediatric cardiologist and director of the heart failure program at Levine Children’s Hospital.
This type of heart transplant was a first for Levine’s Children’s Hospital and Thomas Maxey, MD, a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon.
“When we allowed blood to flow back into her heart, my anxiety was higher compared to our previous heart transplants,” says Dr. Maxey. “Thankfully, it was a success and she was out of the pediatric cardiovascular intensive care unit in a couple of days.”
Ella Kate continues to make great progress and doctors expect the fashionista-in-training to have a healthy future. Mom and dad describe their chubby-cheeked little girl as full of life, but say she shines especially bright when playing dress up.
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