Boston Med: Waiting for Her Heart

The Wait

At 16, Sara's heart was so damaged that doctors added her name to the national registry of patients waiting for a donor heart.

In the midst of studying for SATs, applying to college and wondering if she'd make it to her prom, Sara, who still wore braces on her teeth, had to contend with the mind-boggling journey that is waiting for a new heart.

Blume, who is medical director of the Heart Failure/Transplant Program at Children's Hospital Boston, was growing more concerned about Sara.

"Sara's gotten sicker and sicker over the last six months, I worry that if we don't find her heart soon, that she'll die," she said.

As Lisa Dumas fretted over what could happen to her daughter, she also had to grapple with what it would mean to save Sara's life.

"In order for my child -- or my children -- to survive, somebody else's family has to make the ultimate sacrifice in a time when they are going through a lot of emotional turmoil," she said.

Just 2 ½ months after she was added to the list, a donor heart match was found for Sara.

'Boston Med': Hope for a New Heart

Two surgeons from Children's Hospital Boston boarded a small plane on their way to the hospital where the donor was located. The heart was viable, but there were delays.

In pediatric donors, it is common to harvest a lot of organs, adding to the time it takes to get each organ to its recipient. Several hours later, after working through the night, the surgeons returned to Children's Hospital Boston with Sara's new heart.

During surgery, the teen's blood pressure dipped. Doctors grew tense. They could not determine the cause.

As the Dumas family sat for about five hours in the waiting room for Sara to come out of the OR, it was not far from anyone's mind that Ian, then 14, would also undergo the same surgery not too far down the road.

Sara came through her transplant surgery without serious complications and recovered quickly. She was back home two week later.

Among the Lucky of the 'Lucky Ones'

Sixteen months after her surgery, Sara can be counted among the success stories.

"She's had no bumps in the road since her transplant," said her surgeon, Dr. Francis Fynn-Thompson. "I would expect her to do well and go a long time with her new heart."

"In children, the median time a heart lasts is 12 to 14 years,'' said Fynn-Thompson, who specializes in the repair of complex congenital heart disease and the management of end-stage heart and lung disease in children.

"We do sometimes re-transplant patients when their first heart fails but we have patients who are 20 years out with their first transplanted transplant," he said. "It's unpredictable."

With continued improvement of immunosuppressant medications and rejection screening, the doctor said, patients can live even longer with their transplanted hearts.

Transplanted Future

Now 18, Sara is heading to college in the fall to study biology. She wants to be a cardiologist.

"I'm already taking anatomy in (high) school and it's a little too slow for me right now," she said. "I hope medical school and college will be more challenging than high school classes are."

She enjoys swimming, something she was always afraid to do before, since it caused shortness of breath, and also likes walking and using elliptical trainers, her mother said.

She's also done some running with her friends since her transplant, something her doctors would not permit her to do before.

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