University of Chicago Hospitals performs its first pediatric heart transplant

November 22, 2000

On November 20--just in time for Thanksgiving--wishes came true for Diamond Alexander, 11, and her mother, Shirley Fort. Diamond, who had advanced heart disease, found out that the Make-A-Wish Foundation had granted her request for an expenses-paid shopping spree in downtown Chicago. That same day, her mother's wish came true: Diamond received a heart transplant.

The four-hour operation went smoothly. Diamond recovered remarkably fast. She was able to breathe on her own by the morning after surgery and soon began taking short walks.

"She has had an amazing recovery," said pediatric cardiac surgeon Emil Bacha, MD, who performed the transplant. "Within 36 hours she was up and walking around the ICU."

A sixth grader at the Hartigan School on the South Side of Chicago, Diamond suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy, an inherited disease that causes the heart muscle to balloon out under pressure, reducing its pumping capacity. Her heart pumped less than 10 percent of the normal volume, leaving her constantly tired and badly out of breath.

Diamond's first symptom was falling asleep during school. The disease was diagnosed after a biopsy in July and continued to worsen. By last Wednesday she was in an intensive care unit at the University of Chicago Children's Hospital. She went on the transplant list on Friday, and a suitable organ became available Monday.

Her mother also has cardiomyopathy, which appeared in her 30's. Two other family members died of the disorder. Bacha's team hopes to study the family's genes in order to screen other family members for disease risk and to provide information for Diamond, years from now, when she is preparing to start her own family.

"Although we remain concerned about having this disease in our family, right now we are extremely grateful to the organ donor and his or her family," said Fort. "This Thanksgiving, we have a lot to be thankful for."

Although this was the first pediatric heart transplant performed at the Hospitals, the University of Chicago has the second largest heart transplant program in Illinois and has been performing heart transplants for adults since 1984.

The pediatric heart transplant team is quite experienced. Bacha, recently recruited from Boston Children's Hospital, has performed about 20 heart transplants in children, and cardiac surgery section chief Valluvan Jeevanandam, MD, who was also involved in Monday's operation, has performed more than 650 heart transplants in children and adults.

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