Tiny Babies Receive Domino Heart Transplant

Two babies made medical history earlier this month after they successfully underwent an extremely rare procedure known as domino heart transplant surgery, according to Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio.

Five-month-old Jason Wolfe, born with primary pulmonary hypertension, needed a new set of lungs. Because of his condition, his doctors knew a lung transplant would work better if he also received a new heart at the same time.

And that meant that his heart, which was otherwise healthy, could be donated to another baby -- and that's precisely what was done on Jan. 14 during a 12-hour surgery in which Jason received a new heart and lungs from a deceased donor, and Jason's heart was transplanted into Kayla Richardson, a three-month-old baby born with a single ventricle in her heart.

According to the hospital, the procedure was historic because it was the first time domino heart transplant surgery had been performed on patients so young anywhere in the world, making Jason the youngest living heart donor and Kayla the youngest recipient.

There have only been 12 infant heart-lung transplants performed in the United States, because timing and tissue matching can be tricky.

"It really is a quite rare event because everything has to fall into place," said Dr. Tim Hoffman, director of the heart transplant program at the hospital.

Saving Two Lives at Once

Though rarely performed, this type of procedure helps save two lives at one time.

"Without the use of this domino transplant, most likely Kayla wouldn't have had the opportunity to get a transplant and most likely would not have survived," said Dr. Todd Astor, medical director of the lung and heart-lung transplant program at the hospital.

So far, everything seems OK with the babies. The rarity of the procedure makes their long-term prognosis hard to predict.

"At this point, we're just so excited that he even has a future, that whatever future he has we'll just cherish every day," said Mike Wolfe, Jason's father.

No matter what happens now, the two families feel inextricably linked as well.

"I'm close to Kayla because she's my daughter. But I also feel close to Jason because it feels like we're connected now," said Rebecca Lovins, Kayla's mother.