Born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), Braxton has undergone multiple surgeries. This includes three open-heart surgeries, as well as a heart transplant last year.

News, Child Health | 3 months ago

Braxton Might Have a New Heart, But He’s Always Had a Heart of Gold

Born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), Braxton has undergone multiple surgeries. This includes three open-heart surgeries, as well as a heart transplant last year. Since receiving his new heart, Braxton has gotten more active and is even trying new things, like yoga and baseball.

Eleven-year-old Braxton Hasty loves old movies, especially The Wizard of Oz. In the film, four friends go on a quest for something they think they’re missing, like a home or courage. One of them – Tin Man – is in pursuit of a heart. “I’ve got a heart,” Braxton reflected once while watching. “It just needs to be fixed.”

Braxton has hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a rare congenital condition that leaves the left side of the heart underdeveloped. Because his parents knew his diagnosis before birth, Braxton’s mom, Anita, was sent to Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center for delivery. That way, they’d be next door to Atrium Health’s Levine Children’s Hospital. It’s the only children’s hospital in Charlotte awarded by U.S. News & World Report, ranking among the nation’s best for pediatric heart care and surgery.

Like all patients with HLHS, Braxton needed three open-heart surgeries to survive. First, he had the Norwood surgery at just a few days old, then he had the Glenn at 6 months – both procedures help his ventricle work more efficiently and separate the blood flow to the lungs and the body. Then, when he was 3, he subsequently had the Fontan procedure, the final surgery to help his heart function and blood flow as it should.

Over the next few years, Braxton’s cardiology team monitored his condition, keeping a particularly close eye on a heart valve that was leaking. Because the leaky valve couldn’t be repaired with surgery, fluid began building up on his lungs. “You never could tell that something was wrong with him – he always has a smile on his face,” says his mom, Anita.

But the summer before Braxton’s eleventh birthday, his doctors knew it was time for a fourth surgery: a heart transplant.

A new heart for Braxton

Although the Norwood, Glenn and Fontan procedures help with initial survival, many HLHS patients ultimately need at least one transplant in their lifetime. They’re just not always as young as Braxton. “Braxton needed a heart transplant as he started to develop symptoms of heart failure, with fluid in his lungs and a decrease in his capacity to have normal daily activities,” explains Gonzalo Wallis, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Atrium Health Levine Children’s.

On top of his age, Braxton’s unique challenges – like the valve that was not functioning properly and the need for IV medications to treat heart failure – put him at a higher risk of complications, says Dr. Wallis. “It takes expertise and dedication to do this type of surgery and do it well,” Dr. Wallis adds. Fortunately, in addition to being one of the nation’s top pediatric cardiology programs, Levine Children’s Hospital has the largest pediatric transplant program in the region, and is highly skilled in treating patients as complex as Braxton.

Braxton received his new heart last year on July 22. He was one of 19 pediatric heart transplant patients at Levine Children’s Hospital in 2021 – the most performed in all the Southeast that year. Since then, he’s gotten more active and hopefully will not need any major treatments for a while, outside of heart catheterizations every couple of years to make sure his new heart is functioning properly.

Though he’s still cautious about his heart, that hasn’t stopped him from trying new things, like yoga and practicing baseball. And he’s coming up on a major milestone for any transplant patient: the one-year anniversary.

Heart of gold

A few years ago, at an Easter egg hunt, a little girl was upset that she’d only found one egg. Instead of walking away, Braxton turned to her with words of encouragement: “It’s OK. I didn’t get any last year, but I got four this time. You’ve just got to keep trying!”

That’s just a glimpse into who Braxton is. After holidays in the hospital, heart failure and many complications as the result of his condition, his positive, caring attitude has persevered. “He doesn’t care if you’re little or grownup, he’s always trying to get everybody happy,” says Anita. And his doctors agree, with Dr. Wallis adding, “I love his attitude and how he wears his heart on his sleeve.”

In some ways, maybe Braxton is like Tin Man after all. Because although his heart needed a little fixing, his heart of gold has been there all along.