Children's Hospital Colorado

Juniper: Children's Hospital Colorado's Youngest Ever Recipient of the Berlin Heart

In the days following a birth, the work done by pediatric cardiologists has life and death consequences, literally.

Tiny Juniper Gelrod, or “Junebug” as her family and caregivers call her, was one beneficiary of the incredible work performed by the team from the Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

At Juniper’s two-week check-up, her pediatrician noticed Juniper’s breathing seemed a little heavy. “She ordered a chest X-ray and told me to not really worry about it, that this happens sometimes with babies born at elevation, and just to get the X-ray and everything would be fine. When I came back an hour later, she told me she was going to refer me to a cardiologist at Children’s Colorado and we should go see that afternoon,” said Joni Schrantz, Juniper’s mom.

Juniper’s care team of cardiothoracic surgeon James Jaggers, MD, and cardiologist Kathryn Chatfield, MD, PhD, among many others, quickly diagnosed her with dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease that was weakening and enlarging the two lower chambers of her heart. It would be fatal if not treated quickly.

“She was near death,” says Scott Auerbach, MD, one of the team of physicians who cared for Juniper in those crucial months. The prognosis: Juniper’s heart was beyond repair. She would need a heart transplant.

Transplant waits can stretch on for months, and Juniper wouldn’t live with her heart the way it was. The team decided to try a Berlin Heart Pediatric Ventricular Assist Device, a machine about 20 times Juniper’s size that would assist with pumping her blood. The risk: connecting Juniper to the machine would require inserting tubes directly into her tiny heart. She was Children’s Colorado’s smallest-ever recipient of this lifesaving device.

Juniper lived at the hospital for six months, five of those months with the Berlin Heart. After nearly six months of waiting for a viable donor heart, the doctors at Children’s Colorado performed a complex surgery on then 7-month-old Juniper. She would be the Heart Institute’s milestone 400th transplant recipient.

Just eight days after having her new heart implanted, Juniper was able to go home with her family.

“We had a happy ending and a new beginning as a normal family. Sitting outside on our patio was something so small, but so huge!” said Joni.

Children’s Colorado’s outcomes are consistently better than the national average

Since 1990, the Heart Institute at Children’s Colorado has performed lifesaving heart transplants for children across the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. Here, hundreds of cardiac experts work together to provide care for children with all kinds of congenital heart diseases.

See our excellent pediatric heart transplant outcomes and our team's commitment to quality and patient safety

We thank all donors and donor families for their generous gifts of life.