Surgery Saves Toddler With Rare Heart Defect From Needing a Transplant

Zoey Jones, 3, has spent more than half her life in the hospital.

ByGillian Mohney
February 15, 2016, 1:22 PM

— -- One 3-year-old girl is defying the odds after a rare birth defect left her at risk of needing a heart and lung transplant.

Zoey Jones's heart was not pumping enough blood to her lungs. She had her first life-saving surgery to treat the defect when she was just 90 days old. All together, she's had 13 surgeries and experienced five strokes and seven cardiac arrests as a result of the defect.

"She's spent more than half of her life in the hospital," her mother Tori Goddard said in a video released by the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, last week.

Last year, the family's first hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, told them there was nothing else they could do for the girl and referred them to Nationwide Children's Hospital.

"Her heart function was so bad and her lungs weren't doing well either," her mother recalled.

Goddard connected with doctors at Nationwide Children's Hospital. At first, they thought that Zoey would need a double heart and lung transplant, a rare procedure made more difficult by a lack of pediatric donors.

But Dr. Darren Berman, co-director of Cardiac Catheterization and Interventional Therapy at The Heart Center at Nationwide Children’s, said doctors made a surprising discovery after running a number of tests: A plug could help relieve blood pressure on the arteries in her lungs, meaning Zoey would not need a lung transplant after all.

They also realized that healthy lungs meant she might be able to have a surgery to stabilize her heart. After using catheterization to help relieve pressure on her lungs, doctors operated to redirect blood flow and save Zoey from a heart transplant.

"Finding something like this is extraordinarily rare and being able to help her in the way that we did really, I think, altered her life course," Berman said in the video.

Although Zoey still faces a few procedures, doctors are hopeful about her recovery.

“Her progress lately has been amazing. Since we had her heart surgery, she has learned to walk by herself, and doctors told us she would never walk, and she’s walking unassisted now,” said Goddard.

While Zoey is still on a ventilator to help her breathe, Goddard said they are working on having her breathe without relying on machines.

“We have been able to wean her vent significantly, up to the point now where we’re actually starting to come off of it," she said.

The operations went so well that Zoey was home in 10 days rather than the expected two months.

Goddard said that Zoey's defect hasn't slowed her down and that she's living up to the meaning of her name.

"It’s Greek," Goddard said of her daughter's name. "It means life and she is full of life so it’s a very appropriate name for her."

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