Finding a Match for a Boy With a Bad Heart

On the verge of heart failure, 2-year-old Peyton was given a second chance.

ByABC News
July 16, 2008, 5:45 PM

July 17, 2008— -- In April 2007, Peyton Penrod, an otherwise healthy 2-year-old boy, was flown to Johns Hopkins Hospital, his heart on the verge of failure. Doctors and nurses in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit stabilized him, but his future was uncertain.

A team of pediatricians diagnosed Peyton with idiopathic cardio myopathy -- heart inflammation with no known cause. The pediatricians came to a bleak conclusion: Peyton needed a heart transplant, or he would die.

Luca Vricella, Hopkins' chief of Pediatric Heart and Lung Transplantation, explained this treatment option to Peyton's parents. Vricella is one of only three surgeons in the state of Maryland who performs pediatric heart transplants.

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Choosing between transplantation and death is a horrifying decision for parents to make. Choosing transplant means the family must buy into expensive and emotionally taxing years of chronic disease management, hoping for long-term survival.

In his five years at Hopkins, Vricella says that few parents have ever opted not to go through with a transplant, and they were generally parents of newborns who had yet to bond with their child.

"A kid like Peyton, you've been with him for two years. He's really part of the family. It's very rare you'll find a parent who won't do it," said Vricella.

In an emotional meeting, overwhelmed by their child's sudden brush with death, the Penrods gave the doctors permission to list Peyton for a transplant.

"Parents in this situation are sometimes incapable of making a decision, and you have to just put it all out on the table, and guide them," Vricella said.

There are no guarantees in transplantation. Patients must be able to withstand the stress of a major operation, and they sometimes die before an organ becomes available.

Speaking from Peyton's hospital room weeks into their ordeal, Melissa Penrod, Peyton's mother, said that "the hope and belief that he'll be with us longer makes it worth it."