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Unusual heart transplant saves young girl

December 2, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Over a seven year period of time, more than 500 children in need of a heart transplant didn't get one in time. But one little girl's successful surgery may be changing the rules, and in the process, saving lives.

Four-year-old Kallie Finn and her daddy, Mitch, are two of a kind.

"We're real close anyway, she's always been my little buddy," said Mitch Finn.

When he was 5, Mitch Finn had to have a heart transplant. This year, he learned Kallie's heart was failing, and she'd need one, too.

A ventricular assist device kept Kallie alive for weeks, but the clock was ticking.

"Essentially three times as many kids die on a waiting list compared to adults," said Dr. Pirooz Eghtesady, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at St. Louis Children's Hospital and co-director of the Heart Center.

So Kallie's cardiac surgeon made a surprising call. He decided to give her a donor heart other centers had rejected - a heart with a hole in it.

Holes in hearts are congenital defects that change the normal flow of blood through the heart. Treatment for the condition has greatly improved over the last few decades and kids who have it can survive to adulthood.

"It was hard for me to justify throwing away really a good organ for a child who needed it," said Dr. Eghtesady.

Kallie's surgery went perfectly.

"I closed the hole in the heart and then I did the transplant," said Dr. Eghtesady.

As she gets ready to head home, Kallie's doctor hopes her story opens a door.

"There are probably a lot of hearts that can be used that perhaps are not used, and perhaps this is an opportunity to extend it cautiously to other potential organs that may be available," said Dr. Eghtesady.

Kallie's doctors say given another similar situation, they wouldn't hesitate to use a heart with a hole, as long as it was otherwise healthy. They're hoping other doctors will follow suit.