Hope for a Heart
In May, without any warning, 13 year-old Julia suffered a near-fatal heart attack in her junior high classroom. By the time her mother Grace arrived, Julia was motionless on the floor, surrounded by the ambulance crew. As paramedics used CPR and a defibrillator to restart Julia's heart, Grace called out to her daughter. "It's all right, Julia. I'm here — Mommy loves you!"
Remembering that awful day, Grace can't control her tears. "I kept telling them, I want her taken to CHOP…You have to take her to CHOP! And one of the paramedics, he was so nice, he said 'Ma'am, we wouldn't take her any place else.' " CHOP was exactly where the ambulance was headed.
Julia has been a CHOP patient since infancy. When she was born, doctors discovered she had a heart abnormality. Grace and Francesco, her loving parents, were horrified by the diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that weakens and enlarges the heart and hinders the pumping of blood.
Grace works in a local hospital and has lived in Philadelphia all of her life — she knew there was only one place she could trust to care for her critically-ill baby daughter. Grace and Francesco brought Julia to CHOP, and the team in the Cardiomyopathy and Heart Failure Program has been treating her ever since.
The Familial Cardiomyopathy program is part of The Cardiac Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The Cardiac Center, a premier provider of care for infants, children and young adults with cardiac conditions, is one of the largest and most accomplished in the world.
For years, annual visits to The Cardiac Center and daily medicines were enough to care for Julia. She grew into a beautiful young girl. Julia got tired a bit more quickly than her friends, but she never let that stop her. With her doctor's approval, she played soccer, volleyball, and basketball. Like her friends, she loved music, especially the young pop stars of today, and taught herself to play their songs on the guitar. She was a happy, healthy 13-year-old.
This past February, at a regularly-scheduled echocardiogram, CHOP physicians found her heart had worsened. Doctors increased Julia's medications and stepped up the rate of monitoring. Julia's condition stabilized. But it was not enough to prevent her heart attack months later.
It has now been 5 months since that traumatic day and in her case, Julia's condition has reached the point where only a new heart will save her. She's now receiving seven medications and living at CHOP to receive the skilled care she needs to survive. Patiently and full of hope, she waits for a new heart.
Under the leadership of Thomas Spray, MD, Surgical Director of Thoracic Organ Transplant, Robert Shaddy, MD, Medical Director, Heart Transplantation, and Samuel Goldfarb, MD, Medical Director, Lung Transplantation, The Transplant Center program at CHOP is known both for its excellence and for its comprehensive approach to care. The Transplant Center has performed 172 heart transplants and the expert team is ready to take action as soon as a heart is found for Julia. Grace and Francesco are scared for their daughter, but are incredibly comforted by the exceptional care they know their daughter is receiving.
Just before Thanksgiving this year, after spending many, many months at Children's Hospital, Julia underwent successful heart transplant surgery. She was greeted with cheers from family and friends on her recent arrival home — just in time for the holidays.