Stories about: Dr. John Mayer

Nathaniel’s heart: One for the record books

care for congenital heart defect

As 3-year-old Nathaniel Wesley nervously watched the big machine move toward his chest, he spotted a familiar face: It was the cartoon character Barney — in sticker form. “Give Barney a kiss!” his parents urged, and he smiled at the friendly purple dinosaur while the scanner took images of blood flow in his lungs.

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Thank you from the bottom of my three-chambered heart

Austin is the first person with a 3-chambered heart to run the Boston Marathon.
Austin hugging his father at the finish line of the 2017 Boston Marathon. Photo credit: Joseph Kelly

When people ask me what it was like to run the Boston Marathon, I don’t just think about the race itself. I think about about my entire life journey and all the people who helped get me to Boylston Street. Yes, the actual marathon day is one day in time that people can point to on a calendar, but it’s the long journey with all its ups and downs and the people you meet along the way, that makes it all worth it.

My journey has come full circle, as I went from my mom and I waiting for my dad at the finish line 19 years ago, to them waiting for me as I finished a marathon of my own.

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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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