February 6, 2014

Long-term success of pediatric heart transplants

A study led by a team of experts from Loma Linda University Health concludes that pediatric heart transplantation provides acceptable long-term survival beyond 15 years. The story was picked up by media outlets including “U.S. News & World Report” online.

Hannah Copeland, MD, the lead author of the study, “Pediatric Recipient Survival Beyond 15 Post-Heart Transplant Years:  A Single Center Experience,” presented the findings at the Society of Thoracic Surgeons 50th Annual Conference on January 28 in Orlando.

“Ultimately, our research suggests that pediatric heart transplantation offers children who need it the opportunity to survive,” Copeland said at the press conference. "While major challenges still exist for long-term survival in children, [with] close surveillance, lifelong monitoring, and … advances in immunosuppression medications, the lifespan of the patient can be prolonged."

Copeland, a thoracic surgery fellow at Loma Linda University Medical Center, and her research team conducted a retrospective review of 337 pediatric cardiac patients who underwent heart transplantation between 1985 and 1998 at LLUMC. Of those, 183 lived at least 15 years, and 151 are still alive experiencing good outcomes.

“The average adult survival rate following heart transplantation currently is 10 years," Copeland said. "We studied survival rates beyond 15 years for pediatric heart transplant patients to learn more about quality of life and factors that led to improved survival."

Copeland revealed that pediatric heart transplant is not a cure, but “a chance at life. Our study demonstrates that pediatric heart transplant patients who live more than 15 years post-surgery can expect to have reasonable cardiac function and quality of life."

In addition to Copeland, the research team included Anees Razzouk, MD; Richard Chinnock, MD; Nahidh Hasaniya, MD, PhD; and Leonard Bailey, MD. Bailey pioneered infant heart transplantation at Loma Linda University Medical Center in 1984 after implanting the heart of a baboon into a girl known as Baby Fae. The first human-to-human heart transplant occurred in 1985 and the patient, known as Baby Moses, is still alive and healthy today.