With an average of 16 heart transplants performed each year, the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Transplant Program is part of an elite network of programs in the world that perform more than 10 transplants per year. It is the only pediatric heart transplant program in Georgia.
The program began in 1988 and is now led by Kirk Kanter, MD, Surgical Director, and Chad Mao, MD, Medical Director. The Advanced Cardiac Therapies program, which includes Children’s Heart Transplant team, cares for infants, children and young adults before, during and after pediatric heart transplantation.
The Advanced Cardiac Therapies program also includes the Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) program, which uses surgically placed mechanical pumps to support heart function and blood flow in people with weakened hearts.
There are two broad categories that can indicate the need for a transplant: cardiomyopathy, which consists of heart muscle disorders, and congenital heart disease (CHD), which features anatomical or structural abnormalities of the heart. Most cases will not be severe enough to require a transplant, but if a child’s condition is no longer amenable to surgeries or medication, he or she may be evaluated for placement on the heart transplant list.
Patients are referred to our clinic from all over the region for advanced subspecialty care, and if necessary and identified as good candidates, they may be placed on a national waiting list to receive a heart and may also receive a VAD until they can get a transplant,” Dr. Mao said. “For many of our families, their children have already been receiving cardiac care within our group, and it’s nice for them to be able to stay with a team they trust.”
The Heart Transplant team provides education to families around what it will be like to wait for, receive and then live with a transplanted organ. It can take months or years to find the right match for patients, and they must take anti-rejection drugs twice a day for the rest of their lives after transplant.
Dr. Mao said recovery usually depends on how healthy a child is going into the transplant. Because heart failure can cause children to become too weak to eat or exercise, implantation of a VAD allows doctors to restore normal blood flow and oxygenation to the body, strengthening patients while they wait for transplant.
“If kids can nutritionally replete themselves and become physically stronger by working with physical therapists to build muscle, the other organs that may have been injured or damaged by the heart failure are given a chance to recover, which ultimately improves their success with transplant,” Dr. Mao said.
“Transplant medicine is very different from regular cardiology,” Dr. Mao said. “Our patients have access to a large, multidisciplinary team of transplant surgeons and cardiologists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, social workers, nutritionists, physical therapists, psychologists and even teachers who are all focused on supporting the patient and their families before, during and after heart transplant.”
Click here to learn more about the Children’s Heart Transplant Program.
For more information about Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and our pediatric cardiology specialists, click here.