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A Heartwarming Anniversary at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital

Maryanne Chrisant, MD

by Maryanne Chrisant, MD
Medical Director of Pediatric Heart Transplant, Cardiomyopathy & Heart Failure Services
Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital

It was just a year ago, on December 10, that Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital received United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) accreditation, enabling us to initiate our Pediatric Heart Transplant Program. As a result, this holiday season there are four South Florida families who are uniquely thankful. Each of them has a child who received a heart transplant at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. Each child is the recipient of the ultimate gift, the donation of life.

We listed our first patient, a young teenage girl, just three days after receiving UNOS approval. She received her heart 48 hours later. She was limited her entire life by her cardiac condition. Now she's enjoying "normal" teenage stuff, which poses some new worries for her mother. After long years of being terrified that her daughter would die, I believe the worries about boys, clothes and school are welcome.

Our second patient received her transplant in February. She was born with tricuspid atresia, a condition that results in a single ventricle, or one main pumping chamber, doing the work of the usual two. She had a complicated course, but went home in March eager to return to school, which was her biggest worry about being in the hospital so long. Our third and fourth children received their transplants in August and September. One was 4½ months old and the other was 18 months old. Both are now thriving. We currently have two children awaiting hearts. Each of our patients has a unique story, yet they all shared the same challenges of being limited by their heart conditions prior to transplant.

Before the opening of the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital Pediatric Cardiac Transplant Program, a substantial number of children had to receive services outside of South Florida and even out of state. Between 2005 and 2009, 16 children who lived in the hospital's catchment area were listed for heart transplant. Several received their heart transplants at distant hospitals far from home, and, sadly, some died waiting. These numbers clearly demonstrated the need for a pediatric heart transplant program in Broward County.

The UNOS accreditation of our program was the culmination of years of strategic planning with the goal to develop a highly skilled team and a solid infrastructure to deliver excellent patient care. Dr. Frank Scholl, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery, was recruited in 2005 from Vanderbilt University and has been instrumental in creating the pediatric cardiac service line, including the transplant program. Chris Mashburn was recruited from Denver Children's Hospital, where she was the lead transplant coordinator and an experienced advanced level cardiac nurse. I was recruited to develop the transplant and heart failure programs, based on my background as medical director of the Pediatric Heart Transplant and Heart Failure Programs at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio, and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Although our program is chartered to provide transplant services for patients in Broward County, we can provide care to patients from anywhere in the United States. There are three other pediatric heart transplant programs in Florida – a small number of centers given the large pediatric population, especially here in South Florida. Concentrating such specialized services at a small number of centers has shown to improve outcomes for the patients receiving that care. Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital provides comprehensive care for children across all medical subspecialties, contributing to excellent medical outcomes, which means more healthy children going home to live healthy lives.

During this holiday season, I'm tremendously thankful that I'm part of this team. Mostly, I'm thankful that there are four children who can spend another holiday with their families.




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