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.”
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. …
Transplant recipients typically feel stronger and more energetic following transplant recovery. But returning to regular activities, sports and travel can be challenging. A few “transplant moms,” who’ve already been through the experience, share their wisdom and advice.
Charlene, mom to Brent, 19, liver transplant recipient
Planning a first vacation post-transplant is easier said than done. Charlene Newhall knows. And, she has a handful of advice, following a family summer trip to Arizona from their home in Maine:
- Work with your pharmacy to ensure you have enough medications.
- Research the closest major hospitals. “I was shocked to learn that two of the labs I called didn’t even check immunosuppressant levels.”
- Know your insurance coverage. “If we needed labs or anything medical we knew it would be out of pocket as our insurance is MaineCare. It’s a risk we took and we were prepared!”
- Call your transplant team to help you schedule immunosuppressants accordingly. “If there was one thing I stressed about, it was the time change with the dosing since Arizona is three hours behind us.”
- Prepare for your flight. “Masks are very important when flying. I was shocked at how many people flew sick. I wiped everything down on the plane with Lysol wipes before we sat down.”
- Don’t overly stress. “Make your vacation about memories, not about medical issues.”
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.” …
Dawn Cavanaugh carefully and calmly navigates the roads of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, with a bus full of kids, bringing them to school and safely back home again at the end of each day. As a bus driver, it’s the methodical beat of her everyday life.
Last year, as a mom, she was navigating a very different journey, one in which she did everything in her power — including giving a portion of her liver — to bring her daughter Lydia home safely.
“As far as I’m concerned, my role in this life is to care for my kids,” says Dawn. “And if I have to give a part of myself to do that, that’s all there is to it.”
On the morning of July 15, 2015, Boston Children’s Hospital surgeons Dr. Khashayar Vakili and Dr. Heung Bae Kim begin prepping 11-year-old Lydia for what will be an all-day liver transplant surgery. Dawn is about to undergo surgery as well, 20 miles away at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, in Burlington, Massachusetts, where Boston Children’s adult liver-donor surgeries take place.
A portion of Dawn’s healthy liver will be removed to replace Lydia’s diseased liver. The surgery is not without risk. …