Stories about: congential heart defect

Three decades beat as one: 30 years of heart transplants

heart transplant 30 years Tina Medina and son
Tina Medina and her son Luke

Tina Medina was not a sickly child, yet she grew up knowing something was physically wrong.

She had difficulty keeping up with the other kids in her sixth-grade class and couldn’t run without becoming breathless. Local physicians near her home in Moriah, New York, shrugged it off as asthma — until Tina’s heart stopped twice during a routine appendectomy. “I was told I had a severe heart condition and needed to see a cardiologist right away,” she says.

At 15, Tina was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a rare type of cardiomyopathy that causes the heart muscle to become stiff, making it difficult for the ventricles of the heart to properly fill with blood. Three years following her diagnosis, now a college freshman on her way to Syracuse University, she became severely ill with multiple episodes of congestive heart failure.

“The doctors I was seeing in Burlington referred me to Boston Children’s Hospital,” she says. “It was time to look at getting a heart transplant.”

Tina was listed for six months. She was in the cardiac intensive care unit at the University of Vermont Hospital in Burlington when she learned a heart had become available. “I had no perspective that this was a danger, or that this was a huge deal. I looked at it as, I am finally going to be able to run, be able to breathe and not be sick.”

Boston Children’s nurse practitioner, Patricia O’Brien, CPNP, vividly remembers standing in her kitchen, telephone in hand, scrambling to arrange a flight from Burlington to Boston. “We had a plan in place but it fell through, so we were desperately trying to figure out a way to get her here, and we did.”

Tina’s surgery was performed on Aug. 27, 1992. She was the 22nd heart-transplant patient at Boston Children’s, which performed its first cardiac transplant 30 years ago.

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Daughter of pro hockey player faces off against serious heart condition in Boston

Professional hockey players are known for physical toughness and durable spirit. As one example, the left-winger of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nick Foligno along his wife Janelle, recently took their fight off the ice to ensure their infant daughter received the best heart surgery care in the country.


Milana’s heart valve condition was not discovered in utero, so she was born seemingly healthy to her loving parents. The first sign that Milana was not as perfect as she looked was 24 hours after birth when she failed the mandatory pulse oximetry test, which measures the oxygen level in the blood. The hospital followed up with an echocardiogram that revealed a severe mitral valve problem. Nick and Janelle were informed that their daughter would need surgery at some point in her young life.

The family was discharged in order for Milana to grow, but she struggled and a week later, she was readmitted to their local hospital. They managed her condition with medicines, trying to prolong her surgery until she got just a little bigger. Unfortunately, she wasn’t getting better and wasn’t eating enough to be healthy.

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Happy 75th birthday, congenital heart defect surgery!

Robert Gross, MD

75 years ago Boston Children’s Hospital’s Robert Gross, MD, made medical history when he performed the first surgery to correct a congenital heart defect.

His patient was 7-year-old Lorraine Sweeney, from Brighton, Mass., who had been diagnosed with patent ductus arteriosus, a congenital heart defect consisting of a persistent abnormal opening between the pulmonary artery and the aorta. In 1938, it was generally a death sentence—but where others saw the impossible Gross, the chief surgical resident at Boston Children’s at the time, saw opportunity.

“If you look at the history of cardiac surgery,” says Boston Children’s Associate Anesthesiologist-in-Chief Mark Rockoff, MD, who also chairs the hospital’s Archives Program, “it essentially all started with Dr. Gross.”

After two years of successful animal experiments, Gross was certain that the defect could be corrected in a human being “without undue danger.” He lobbied for the opportunity to test his theory, despite skepticism from his peers, and direct opposition from William Ladd, MD, Boston Children’s surgeon-in-chief at the time, and Gross’s superior.

Undaunted, Gross waited until Ladd boarded a ship bound for a Europe. Then, with the blessing of Sweeney’s mother, he put his career on the line and performed a revolutionary surgery—tying off Sweeney’s patent ductus arteriosus, allowing normal flow of blood through her heart. “Dr. Gross told me that if I had died, he would never have worked again,” Sweeney recalls. “He would have ended up back on his family’s chicken farm.”

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From the surgical suite to the winner’s podium: brothers treated at Boston Children’s compete in the World Transplant Games

Though they’re two years apart, brothers Brock and Connor Marvin have a lot in common. They’re both affable, active young men who love watching and playing sports. Brock, the eldest, is a goal keeper for Oglethorpe University’s soccer team, while Connor holds places on his high school’s varsity soccer, basketball and golf teams.

They were also both born with a genetic heart condition so severe it would require them to receive heart transplants within a year and a half of each other.

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