SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) --- About 500 heart transplants are performed each year in the U.S. on children aged 17 and under. But what is more troubling is the amount of time they have to spend on a donor waitlist. Now a new method is re-thinking how hospitals match patients with hearts.
The chords come effortlessly for Athena. The 15-year-old has been playing for as long as she can remember before she even knew she was sick.
“I had symptoms since second grade,” Athena Tran recalled.
Athena was eventually diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. Blood wasn’t pumping through her heart efficiently. Athena needed a new one.
“I got on the list in fifth grade and then two years later in seventh grade, I had a stroke while I was sleeping,” Tran shared.
Athena recovered and after a two-year wait, finally received a new heart.
John Dykes, MD, a pediatric cardiologist with Stanford Children’s Health told Ivanhoe, “The thing that really limits us in pediatrics is that the number of pediatric donors is much smaller than the number of adult donors.”
But now that wait maybe a lot less. Stanford is one of the few hospitals to match patients with donor hearts based on total cardiac volume.
Dr. Dykes explained, “Traditionally the way we thought of size matching, we’ve used what we call surrogate markers and that has to do with height and weight.”
But those markers don’t necessarily hold true with children in heart failure. Often they’ve stopped growing and have enlarged hearts.
“And so, if you had a 13-year-old that had a heart size that could accommodate a 25-year-old, it’s likely that that patient would wait much less on the list,” Dr. Dykes clarified.
Doctors are able to determine this by comparing chest images of a patient and a donor.
“What we’re doing is essentially performing, from a size standpoint, what would be called a virtual transplant,” Dr. Dykes stated.
A critical new step to finding a match sooner.
In addition to getting patients a heart faster, Dr. Dykes also aims to be able to use more donors. Currently, the U.S. utilizes only 60 percent of all pediatric heart donors. He says with this new method, that number can be much higher.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Jennifer Winter, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.