Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Heart Institute pediatric heart transplant team recently performed its 400th successful heart transplant on seven-month-old patient Juniper Gelrod.
At just two weeks old, Juniper was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens and enlarges the two lower chambers of the heart, thus lessening the amount of blood that is pumped out of the heart to the rest of the body. Cardiomyopathy affects thousands of children in the U.S. and is the leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest in children.
Multidisciplinary care for Juniper
A team of doctors from the Heart Institute operated on Juniper in April to implant a Berlin Heart, making her one of the youngest and smallest patients at Children’s Colorado to receive this ventricular assist device that does the work for her sick heart. She lived at the hospital for six months, five of those months with the Berlin Heart, before undergoing a heart transplant. More than 30 staff members, including pediatric cardiologists, surgeons, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, anesthesiologists and therapists, were part of Juniper’s pediatric heart transplant team.
“The Heart Institute team rooted for Juniper every step of the way. They explained everything so thoroughly and included us in the decisions surrounding her care,” said Joni Schrantz, Juniper’s mom. “We owe her life to this place and to the team. They are part of our lives, and we’ll be forever indebted to them. We’re also thankful for all the kindness and compassion we’ve received throughout this journey.”
The Heart Institute’s pediatric heart transplant program is one of the largest in the nation and has seen tremendous success since it began in 1990. For the past 24 years, patients from Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Utah, Arizona, Nebraska and South Dakota have received heart transplants at Children’s Colorado. The Heart Institute is a leader in heart transplantation for babies, kids and teens with excellent survival rates.
“Only 40% of babies with complex heart conditions are diagnosed before birth. This makes it critical for infants born with complex heart conditions to receive immediate support from a team of pediatric specialists with expertise managing congenital heart conditions,” said Dr. James Jaggers, cardiothoracic surgeon and co-medical director of the Heart Institute at Children’s Colorado. “No other program in our region offers the depth of expertise available through our Heart Institute, or the pediatric specialty support available at Children’s Hospital Colorado.”
Better outcomes for heart transplant patients at Children's Colorado
Dr. Jaggers added that the Heart Institute has surgical and quality metric outcomes that exceed local and national benchmarks. According to national comparison data from the Society of Thoracic Surgery, the Heart Institute’s survival outcomes after heart surgery are consistently better than the national average, and the hospital’s average length of stay for all heart surgeries is lower.
“We got to take Juniper home eight days after she received her new heart. Walking out the doors of the hospital into the ‘real world’ after six months presented new challenges and opportunities,” said Schrantz. “We had a happy ending and a new beginning as a normal family. Sitting outside on our patio the day we got home was something so small, but so huge!”
According to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients and The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, the national average wait time for a heart transplant is 7.2 months, but many candidates are on a waiting list for years. General pediatric heart transplant outcomes show for patients younger than 12 months, a transplant can add an average of nearly 20 years to their life. The Heart Institute at Children’s Colorado follows more than 20 patients who received their first transplant over 20 years ago.
Experts at the Heart Institute participate on numerous national and international committees, such as the American Heart Association, Society of Thoracic Surgery, International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation, the United Network for Organ Sharing, Pediatric Heart Transplant Society and the Pediatric Cardiomyopathy Registry, which all help develop new methods to improve cardiac care for children and adults throughout the U.S. and world.