News Seth Stratton | 5 years ago

Levine Children’s Hospital Makes Heart Transplant History

Pediatric heart team completes two successful transplants in one day.

Little Rihanna Carlos doesn’t know it yet, but she was part of history this week. Early on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, the pediatric cardiovascular team at Levine Children’s Hospital began a heart transplant surgery on the 4-month-old girl, just one hour after transplanting another patient. The two procedures brought the team’s number of transplants to 10 for 2016 – the most the team has ever performed in a year. Rihanna is the only girl of the bunch and she’s the first in the hospital’s heart program history to potentially get a heart that didn’t match her blood type. Incompatible blood type organs typically cannot be given to children 3 and older because of antibodies in the blood. “She was listed as an incompatible heart candidate,” says Gonzalo Wallis, MD, a pediatric cardiologist and director of the Heart Failure Program. “Usually heart transplants use the same blood type but she has no antibodies against other blood types, so she could use anyone’s heart.” However, an offer from a compatible donor became available so ultimately that’s what Rihanna received. The heart was, as described by Dr. Wallis, “perfect.”

Healing a Sick Heart

Before the transplant, Dr. Wallis and the team used IV medications to help Rihanna’s sick heart work better. Gladys, Rihanna’s mother, also has four sons -- all healthy with no signs of heart disease. She had a normal pregnancy with Rihanna, so she assumed her daughter would be healthy as well. But, after a month and a half, Rihanna got sick and ultimately ended up in the care of the pediatric heart team. Doctors diagnosed Rihanna with cardiomyophathy, which most likely was caused by a genetic mutation that developed over time and couldn’t be detected in pregnancy.

Unforgettable Family Wins Over Hospital Staff

Dr. Wallis jokingly refers to Rihanna as his “girlfriend” while the nurses refer to her and her family as “stars” of the hospital. “They are an incredible family and they have captured everyone’s hearts here,” says Dr. Wallis. “Rihanna’s siblings are a wonderful group of rowdy, long-haired kids, and they all help brighten our hallways.”

Interpreter Provides Compassion, Support for Mom

Rihanna’s mother only speaks and understands Spanish, so the team relied on an interpreter to help, Nannette Badillo Correro, who formed a special relationship with Gladys. “We met about 2 months ago, right in the beginning,” says Badillo Correro. “She is such a brave mom and I admire her.  She’s so young, with so much responsibility.” The women clicked immediately, as Badillo Correro compassionately and accurately translated information from the doctors. “As interpreters, we need to find the right way to interpret things -- it should not necessarily be word for word of what the doctors say, because sometimes the patients receive the message but it was not understood.” For Badillo Correro, the Carlos family is one she will remember. She would frequently tell Gladys that she was praying for her and her baby every day, and she filled the role of someone for Gladys to laugh with, to watch Rihanna with, and to share in the constant ups and downs that come with a hospital stay. The morning of the transplant, the two women passed each other by the elevators, and immediately hugged and cried and celebrated in a moment that will touch Badillo Correro forever. “Today was a happy ending!”