Stories about: heart failure

Mending a ‘backward’ heart

Joe, who has congenitally corrected transposition of the great arteries , sits with his dog OdieThe 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.”

For the past three decades, the team at Boston Children’s Heart Center has medically and surgically managed Joe’s condition. And at 33, his heart is still ticking.

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Two-year-old twin makes history after receiving hospital’s 300th heart transplant

300th heart transplant recipient - two-year-old DeanThe 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.

300th heart transplant celebration cookies

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.

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Saving six: Life before and after transplant

An organ transplant is a life-changing event extending far beyond the operating room, the clinics and the hospital walls. Read about five children, one young adult and their families, whose lives were forever changed by the Pediatric Transplant Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.


Lydia’s liver transplant, a mom’s gift

Living donor liver transplant recipientDawn Cavanagh gave her daughter life twice — first when she was born and, again, when she gave 13-year-old Lydia a piece of her liver last summer. The donor-approval process, which occurs with Boston Children’s partner Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, required hours of medical screening, including an interview with a social worker, who asked if Dawn expected anything in return for being Lydia’s liver donor. “And I said, ‘Of course I expect something,’” explains Dawn. “’I expect her to live a long and happy life, and I expect her to be with me for a long time.’”

More than a year after her liver transplant, for Lydia’s birthday, Aug. 1, the Cavanagh family went on Lydia’s Make-A-Wish trip, a Disney cruise to the Bahamas. “We had so much fun,” says Dawn. “She’s a happy kid. She has dreams. She wants to be a transplant nurse, and she wants to work on 10 South at Boston Children’s Hospital.” 

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A new normal: Life after pediatric heart transplant

"Danny strong:" Life after a heart transplant
Left to right: Tommie Deitz (uncle), Danny Deitz, Terry Deitz (father), Kayla Deitz (sister), Pam Deitz (aunt) and Trish Deitz (mother)

In September 2015, Simsbury, Connecticut, high school junior Danny Deitz had a heart transplant. 

After a few months of rest and recovery, he’s now back at school, returned to the gym and is spending quality time with his friends. Danny shares what he’s learned throughout his experience with cardiomyopathy and heart failure.

All in all, life’s been really great. I went back to school four weeks ago. Getting back into the work was a bit tough at first — I had been doing one hour of tutoring a day, and now I’m in school six hours a day! But I’m getting used to it. I’m basically doing everything I used to, and it’s nice to be back in that routine.

It got kind of boring sitting at home all the time while my friends were at school, but I had friends over on the weekends. And it made me appreciate the little things more. Being at home with family — that’s really important.

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