The heart condition Ariana was born with didn't pose a problem for the South Florida teen until she started having tummy aches at age 16.
It was during a visit to Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital that doctors realized that her heart was deteriorating. Ariana's condition was causing her lungs to fill up with fluids that were dripping into her abdomen area.
She would need a heart transplant, the family was told.
"Nothing in the world could prepare you for something like that news," said Ariana's mother, Adriana.
On September 5, 2017, Ariana became the hospital's 32nd heart transplant patient. She, along with the other recipients, is forever connected to the hospital’s Heart Transplant program, which is celebrating seven years of providing children and teens like Ariana a new heart and a new life of beginnings and possibilities.
In Ariana's case, her transplant was made possible by a remarkable procedure now being performed by the hospital's multi-disciplinary medical staff.
To prepare Ariana for a transplant, doctors determined she would need a ventricular assist device to get her strong enough for the life-saving heart transplant.
Ariana had been diagnosed at the young age of six months with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart's ability to pump blood is decreased because the heart's main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, is enlarged and weakened.
In August of 2017, Ariana became the first pediatric patient at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital to be implanted with a ventricular assist device, called the HeartWare. Previous patients were connected with a Berlin Heart, which also helped function of the heart.
The HeartWare device is unique in that it is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand and its batteries fit in a school-sized backpack, allowing the child more freedom with mobility.
Having a VAD implant allowed Ariana to gain strength and continue a fuller life while she awaited for a heart.
"As always, families and patients when they are old enough, they sort of hesitate. It's the feeling of wait a minute, you are going to do one operation just to get me to that other operation but you need that first operation to make you well enough for the heart transplant," said Dr. Maryanne Chrisant, Medical Director, Pediatric Cardiac Transplant, Heart Failure And Cardiomyopathy at JDCH.
"When we do the heart transplant, that heart is going to be yours for life," she said.
The VAD was surgically placed in Ariana's chest, in a sac around the heart known as the pericardial space. The pump is connected directly to the pump at the bottom of her left ventricle, where it draws oxygen-rich blood through the pump and pushes it into the aorta.
Once blood reaches the aorta, it can flow to the rest of the body.
"Another big thing about the device is that she was able to get to a point where she can get out of bed and potentially discharged to her home," said Dr. Immanual Turner, one of Ariana's pediatric heart surgeons.
Ariana would only have to carry around a bag with an external battery console, instead of being attached to a large device such as the Berlin Heart used primarily on younger or small children.
Less than a month after receiving the VAD, Ariana's family got a 3 a.m. phone call from the hospital.
"They said they had a heart for Ariana," the mother recalled.
After the successful transplant, Ariana was able to go home with a new heart and a new chance of life.
"One of my goals is to beat my sister in swimming," Ariana said during a bedside going-away party hosted by the hospital's Child Life team.
The ability to use VADs on teenagers is the latest advancement for the Pediatric Heart Transplant program, said Frank Scholl, MD, Surgical Director of the Pediatric Heart Transplant program.
“Children like Ariana are a testament to all of the research that makes it possible for children to live longer as they wait for a second chance," Scholl said. "We are very proud that we are able to have these success stories while we continue to search for new ways to support our children."
The program took on life on December 10, 2010, when JDCH received approval at the federal level from UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing). The approval of the program was the culmination of years of strategic planning, including the formation of a pediatric cardiac transplant team with the right mix of expertise and compassion.
Five days later, on December 15, the hospital's first pediatric heart transplant was performed by the expert cardiac transplant team – marking the first steps to a new journey for the patient and the JDCH Heart Transplant Program.