Stories about: Department of Cardiac Surgery

Francesca’s story: Beating a heart tumor

Francesca, who was diagnosed with a cardiac tumor before she was born, with herAlthough her parents were warned she might not breathe when she was born, the moment Francesca Durkos came into this world, she let out a gutsy cry.

“It was music to our ears,” says her mom.

Michelle Carino Durkos was 40 weeks pregnant when she learned there was a tumor attached to her unborn daughter’s heart — a tumor so large that doctors near her home in Pensacola, Florida, were unsure if the baby would live.

“It was a shock, because at 20 weeks everything was normal,” says Michelle. “We had a wonderful ultrasound; we saw all four chambers.”

Yet, call it a mother’s intuition, Michelle knew something was wrong.

“The whole pregnancy I had this strange feeling. I didn’t want to upset her, so I’d sleep sitting up, as if she was fragile — as if she was in distress.”

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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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