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Hospital Specializes in Heart Transplants for the Tiniest Patients

After nine months of pregnancy, an adorable bundle of love becomes part of your life. Bringing your baby home from the hospital is a special day, as you look forward to watching this perfect little human being grow and learn. Imagine discovering a week or a month later that your child has developed a serious health problem and will need surgery. Whom do you trust with that tiny little body?

Heather Voss knows that feeling all too well. Her daughter Skylie was a happy, healthy baby – or so they thought — right up until they learned she needed a heart transplant. “When she was a month and a half old, she went off to daycare in the morning, and within two hours she was in the local emergency room,” says Heather.

Skylie was diagnosed with cardiomyopothy. “One side of her heart was extremely enlarged and not pumping blood,” explains Heather. After trying unsuccessfully to treat the condition with medication, doctors told Heather that Skylie needed a heart transplant.

Luckily for Skylie, her family lives in Minnesota, so she was transferred to the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital, Fairview, one of the nation’s premier facilities for pediatric heart transplants. Founded in 1981, the transplant center’s pediatric organ transplantation program is the only one in the state that regularly serves infants.

The team of experts at University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital specializes in stabilizing children pre-transplant, performing heart transplantations and providing follow up medical care. Physicians at the hospital performed the first infant heart transplant in Minnesota on a six-month-old and have since performed a heart transplant on a one-month-old child.

Skylie was three months old when she had her heart transplant. She spent two months in the hospital following her surgery. She is now 10 months old, and “doing really well,” says her mom. Although Skylie suffered one bout of rejection, she has since been able to decrease the amount of anti-rejection medication. “We’re down to a check up every six weeks,” reports Heather.

Dr. Cynthia Herrington, a cardiovascular and thoracic transplant surgeon who was part of Skylie’s medical team, explains that there are many different reasons that a child might need a heart transplant, such as congenital heart disease, a heart defect, or as in Skylie’s case, cardiomyopathy. “Heart transplants are the best hope for pediatric patients with serious heart disease,” she says. “While there are a wide variety of support devices for adults, there aren’t many options for children.”

About 300 pediatric heart transplants are performed in the United States every year. Once a child is placed on the list for a heart transplant, it can be a matter of days or months before a heart is available. Skylie waited for three weeks before a match was found.

Many children are hospitalized during that time, as was the case with Skylie. “It was really hard to see her heart deteriorate before she got her transplant,” says Heather. “She was on a ventilator and her heart function was down to 5 percent.”

While it was a very stressful time, Heather praises the doctors and nurses who were with Skylie along the way. Heather looks forward to seeing the staff when she and Skylie go back for checkups.

“We have a long history of research devoted to improving results for pediatric patients. We are proud of our reputation for innovation and advanced technology in performing heart transplants for infants and children,” says Herrington.

About the Author
For more information on Skylie or University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital, visit

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