The first clue came with a murmur.
At a mere week old, Joe LaRocca was diagnosed with an extraordinarily rare heart defect. Both ventricles were reversed.
Fortunately, with this particular defect, the arteries are reversed too, essentially “correcting” the abnormality. That’s where it gets its name — congenitally corrected transposition of the great arteries (CCTGA).
In a normal heart, the demanding duty of pumping oxygenated blood into the body is handled by the left ventricle, and the right ventricle pumps blood a short distance into the lungs. But Joe’s heart was far from normal.
“The right ventricle is not meant to do the harder work,” says Dr. Elizabeth Blume, Heart Failure and Heart Transplant Program medical director at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Since the ventricles are reversed in patients with CCTGA, over time, this muscle tires out.”
In the foyer of the Geraghty house in Bedford, New Hampshire, 20 red heart-shaped balloons and a wall-to-wall banner welcome Erin Geraghty home from college. It’s not her birthday — she’s 21. It’s not her graduation — she’s a first-semester University of New Hampshire senior. And it’s not Valentine’s Day.
It’s her 20th year with the same heart.
Born with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy — a condition that causes the heart to pump blood inefficiently — Erin received a heart transplant at Boston Children’s Hospital when she was just 1 year old.
Her sister Katie, two years her senior, remembers Erin’s frequent visits to the hospital. “We didn’t understand why mom wasn’t with us, but we knew it was important.” …
The cookies for Dean Andersen’s welcome-home celebration were decorated with “#300,” fitting for the two-year-old who, just six weeks earlier, received the 300th heart transplant performed at Boston Children’s Hospital.
“Dean does things in his own time and in his own way,” says his mom, Janet Andersen. “His transplant was no exception.”
The Boston Children’s Heart Transplant Program performed its first transplant in 1986, and this May marked the program’s 30th anniversary. Dean’s transplant in June was yet another reason for celebration.
“Milestones like these are not accomplished without our amazing multidisciplinary staff, whose unending commitment and dedication provide an incredible model of excellence; the families and their children, who have taught us so much about resiliency, love, and true spirit; and lastly, the donor families, who in their worst hours of loss, could see through to the needs of another child and family to donate the gift of life,” says Dr. Elizabeth Blume, Heart Transplant Program medical director.
A failing heart
Dean was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect while Janet was still pregnant. When Dean was born, he was found to have a more complex, rare type of congenital heart disease, which included corrected transposition of the great arteries with pulmonary atresia and atrioventricular canal defect. This meant his heart was on the wrong side of his body, the two main arteries leaving the heart were reversed, one of those vessels was not formed normally, and there was a large hole in the middle of his heart. Although a fraternal twin, his brother Lou was unaffected.
“After his shunt in the first week of life, his doctors told us that at about nine months to a year, Dean would need a complex biventricular repair including switching the atrial blood flow, closing the hole and a conduit to provide blood flow to the lungs, essentially to reconstruct the entire heart,” Janet explains. “And that’s what we geared up for in the first year of life.”
Dean went into the surgery healthy, but he never fully recovered. “It just wasn’t enough to help his heart,” says Janet. …
Avery Toole is 12. She’s an only child — with three older brothers.
Dalton and Avery’s lives intersected in 2009.
Dalton was riding his bike, while on a family vacation.
Avery, 5, was at Boston Children’s Hospital, her life hanging in the balance. She had been on the transplant list, waiting for a heart for 52 days.
Dalton was struck by a truck.
One week after the accident, Dr. Elizabeth Blume, medical director of the Boston Children’s Heart Transplant Program, phoned Avery’s parents Cheryl and Mike Toole. She had “the perfect heart” for Avery.
“We knew Dalton didn’t need his organs wherever he was going,” says Dalton’s father Jim Lawyer. Jim, an anesthesiologist, and his wife Jeri, an operating room nurse, donated their son’s organs. …