In one five-day span this September, four patients – one teenager and three critically ill infants – received life-saving heart transplants at Seattle Children’s.
For four families, the week meant the end of an agonizing wait and the start of a new life.
To perform four transplants in five days is very unusual, says Dr. Lester Permut, heart surgeon and interim chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Seattle Children’s. “But these are situations we train for.”
The first notification came at the end of a busy Friday: A donor heart was available for 6-month-old AJ Baird, who had spent half his short life waiting for a heart in Children’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU).
A team from Children’s – two heart surgeons and a transplant nurse – set out immediately to get the donor heart while a team led by Dr. Permut and another heart surgeon, Dr. Michael McMullan, readied AJ at Children’s. The transplant surgery started early on Saturday, Sept. 22.
The team was finishing AJ’s surgery when the beeper went off again: a heart was available for 14-year-old Batul Al-Salami, who has been followed by the Heart Center since birth.
Then it happened again, and again, until Wednesday, Sept. 26. By then, the team had completed a total of four heart transplants – more than Children’s had ever done in a single week.
The cluster of transplants made for an exhilarating week.
“When a heart comes up for one of our patients, we’re excited about it and the energy from that sustains us,” says Dr. Permut, who traded the role of lead and assistant surgeon with Dr. McMullan for all four surgeries.
“It was a tour de force for a big group of people,” adds Dr. McMullan. “It took an incredible team and a very good system to pull this off.”