A rush of excitement swept over Alexia Clinton this past July as she walked into the 22,039 seat Houston Dynamo stadium, hearing her name along with the rest of Team New England called over the loudspeaker. The national youth athletic competition she had waited for all year was about to begin. In addition to winning gold for her softball throw, 10-year-old Alexia won silver in both swimming and long jump and bronze in cornhole. When you consider the fact that she had a heart transplant at the tender age of three, these accomplishments are all the more astonishing.
Alexia was participating in the Transplant Games of America, a nationwide sports festival for organ donors and individuals who have had an organ transplant. The games were first held in 1986, with a mission to celebrate and promote organ and tissue donation. State and regional teams compete in events that range from tennis to cycling to ballroom dancing, and age divisions range from “5 and under” to “70 +.” Alexia was among the event’s most decorated athletes. “I really liked everyone on my team,” she recalls, “and it was nice to see a lot of other kids there, and know I was not the only one who had a transplant.”
Not your average stomachache
Sandra Clinton, Alexia’s mother, recounts the whirlwind of events that led up to her daughter’s heart transplant. “She had a stomachache, so I took her to her pediatrician. I had no idea how serious the problem was,” Sandra says. Her pediatrician detected an abnormal rhythm in Alexia’s heart and sent her straight to Norwood Hospital, where emergency room physicians promptly called for ambulance transport to Boston Children’s Hospital.
Alexia was rushed to the Boston Children’s cardiac ICU and spent the next 20 days in an induced coma. The previously healthy, active toddler was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, which means the main pumping chamber of her heart was stretched out so that it could no longer pump blood effectively. It was soon clear that Alexia would need a heart transplant.
While the family waited for a donor heart to become available, Alexia was kept alive in the pediatric transplant center on a Berlin Heart, an external ventricular assist device (VAD) connected to the body that pumps blood in place of a patient’s existing, malfunctioning heart. Christopher Almond, MD, Alexia’s first cardiologist at Boston Children’s, knew the Berlin Heart was the only way to keep her alive during the wait for a donor heart. Boston Children’s, a pioneer in the use of VADs with kids, was one of a select group of medical centers in the country allowed to use the Berlin Heart on pediatric patients.
After 36 days of anticipation, the transplant surgery that saved Alexia’s life was performed on November 7, 2007. She arrived home on her fourth birthday.
Young Alexia was soon thriving again, keeping up with her peers and growing into a smart, adventurous, outgoing girl. During the last six years of quarterly checkups, she and have her family have have developed close relationships with Kevin Daly, MD; Betsy Blume, MD; and the entire Heart Transplant Team at Boston Children’s.
Having a transplanted heart does not hold Alexia back. She enjoys math class and P.E. at school and plays a sport for every season: soccer, basketball and softball. Alexia aspires to be a professional athlete when she grows up. Her dream is to play not just one, but two, professional sports–preferably baseball and soccer. But she is also considering following in her father’s footsteps and pursuing a career in investment finance.
Alexia says she would love to compete at the World Transplant Games next summer in Argentina (home to her favorite soccer player, Lionel Messi). Her family, including two sisters who are always by her side, will be there to cheer her on.
Learn more about the Heart Transplant Program