July 26, 2011

Pediatric Heart Transplant Offers Hope to 15-Year-Old East Tennessee Girl

For five weeks, Ashleigh Hammer lay tethered to machines and bound in a web of wires and intravenous lines. On a day in early September, she gazed up at the blinking heart monitor beside her hospital bed.

Faster, faster, faster the monitor flashed. 120 beats – 200 beats – 250 beats – back to 200. Her heart was racing out of control.

“Mama, it's happening again,” the 15-year-old anxiously advised her mother.


For the second time in 10 minutes, Ashleigh's heart was racing so fast it was not able to pump blood. She went into cardiac arrest, a sign her failing, diseased heart couldn’t hold on much longer.

James Johns, M.D., professor of Pediatric Cardiology, who was walking by her room, revived her. But she needed a heart transplant. She was on the waiting list for a donor.

"It's hard to come in and see your child laying there hooked up to a machine. But you know you’ve got to go through this to get to the next step," said Patty Hammer, Ashleigh's mom.

The waiting game had begun for a donor heart to be found.

Nearly 30 years ago, young patients, such as Ashleigh, wouldn't have survived. The first pediatric heart transplants were not performed until the mid-to-late 1980s, when a new anti-rejection medication, cyclosporine, became available and improved patients' chances of survival.

Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, as it was known then, was an early innovator in pediatric cardiology and performed
Tennessee's first heart transplant on a child in 1987, joining only a handful of centers that offered the surgery. Since the first transplant, the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt has done more than 155 heart transplants in children, and remains the only pediatric heart transplant center in Tennessee.

 Read the rest of the story by Christina Echegaray here.