Nicole Eggleston received devastating news during an ultrasound when she was 22 weeks pregnant: Her unborn son had a dangerous heart condition called pulmonary atresia.
What is Pulmonary Atresia?
Pulmonary atresia is a congenital condition, which means it is a condition a baby is born with. As with most congenital heart conditions, there is no known cause. In pulmonary atresia, the pulmonary valve, responsible for transporting blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs, does not form properly. The valve stays closed and does not connect the heart to the lungs. This means blood from the right side of the heart cannot travel back to the lungs to pick up much-needed oxygen.
Corrective Surgery for Pulmonary Atresia: Plan A for Dravyn
The heart team that found the defect initially believed they could safely perform a series of corrective surgeries during Dravyn’s first few years of life. However, once Dravyn entered the world in February, the doctors realized his situation was more severe than they had thought: Dravyn had only one coronary artery instead of two (the blood vessel that supplies blood to the heart). Dravyn was at risk for his heart stopping and was unable to leave the hospital. Surgery was not an option. Dravyn needed a heart transplant.
Arriving at UCLA: A Heart Transplant for Baby Dravyn
A mere four days old, Dravyn arrived via airlift at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. The pediatric cardiologists at UCLA confirmed that a transplant was Dravyn’s only option. Unfortunately, it can takes weeks, months or even years for an infant heart to become available. Juan Alejos, MD, the director of UCLA’s pediatric heart transplant program knew that the “chances for getting a heart were very low.” However, in a miraculous turn of events, soon after Dravyn was placed on the transplant list, a heart became available.
Dravyn’s Heart Transplant Surgery
Dravyn was one of UCLA’s youngest heart transplant patients. He was only five pounds and three weeks old when he received his new heart. The UCLA pediatric transplant team performed the transplant in just three hours, stitching the new heart (the size of a strawberry!) into place. He was able to go home soon after to his grateful mother and siblings. The day he left the hospital was emotional for both Nicole and the UCLA team. “Transplant patients become part of our family,” noted Leigh Reardon, MD, a UCLA pediatric cardiologist, “We care for them and love them.”
Dravyn’s Heart Transplant Team at UCLA
The heart transplant team is a large one, drawing from many pediatric specialties including: pediatric heart specialists, transplant coordinators, nurses, social workers and child developmental specialists. The team works together during the carefully coordinated, meticulously planned surgery, giving the littlest patients the highest level of care. The team at the Heart Transplant Program at Mattel Children’s Hospital is one of the most experienced in the region, having performed more than 300 pediatric heart transplants since the first such surgery in 1984.
Organ Donors: Giving the Gift of Life
“How do you say thank you for giving your baby life?” Nicole still wonders. In addition to the gratitude she feels towards Dravyn’s transplant team, Nicole has as special place in her heart for the family of the donor. She hopes that Dravyn’s story will inspire others to consider organ donation, a true gift of life. As for Dravyn, Nicole is excited to watch him grow up, run around and play with his siblings. She hopes that one day he will remember this as “something in the past that made us stronger.”