Written by: Lauryn Gerard
UT Health Austin and Dell Children’s Medical Center are proud to announce that 13-year-old Grace Jennings is home after receiving a long-awaited heart transplant. Grace received her heart transplant on January 26, 2021 after waiting 15 months for a donor heart while on a lifesaving mechanical heart pump. Grace is the second patient to receive a heart transplant from the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease program at Dell Children’s.
Grace was born with a congenital heart defect, which required multiple cardiac operations early in life. In September 2019, she underwent open-heart surgery at Dell Children’s after experiencing heart failure and was the first pediatric patient in Central Texas to receive a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), which is an implanted mechanical pump that supports the circulation and partially replaces heart function in people who have weakened hearts.
For the last 15 months, Grace has been connected to a battery pack and controller that stores the LVAD while patiently awaiting a heart transplant at her home in San Antonio. Through the support of her LVAD, she was able to attend school and remain active at home. However, on December 9, 2020, Grace was airlifted to Dell Children’s after suffering a brain hemorrhage. She remained in the intensive care unit at Dell Children’s until she received her donor heart on January 26.
“Due to Grace’s complex medical history, her unique anatomy, and a multitude of past operations, she was not able to receive a heart transplant at other healthcare facilities. Our cardiac surgical team has been committed to providing the best possible outcome for this remarkable little girl, first with the LVAD, and 15 months later with a heart transplant,” says Charles Fraser, MD, UT Health Austin congenital heart surgeon and Chief of Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery for the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease. “Grace has an indomitable spirit, and she’s determined to get better and stronger every day.”
“Grace was in end-stage heart failure, and the ten-hour heart transplant surgery involved a dedicated transplant team that includes surgeons, perfusionists, a transport team, anesthesiologists, and transplant coordinators all invested in her critical care,” says Ziyad Binsalamah, MD, MSc, FRCSC, FACS, UT Health Austin congenital heart surgeon and Surgical Director of Heart Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support at Dell Children’s. “Her outcome was amazing.”
Chesney Castleberry, MD, Medical Director of the Heart Failure, VAD, and Transplant Program and the pediatric heart muscle disease specialist caring for Grace emphasizes, “It’s exciting to build on the expertise of this team. From a mechanical heart pump to a heart transplant, Grace is a true success story.”
Grace was able to return to her home in San Antonio on March 5, 2021. She looks forward to returning to school and will continue with rehabilitation and follow-up care.
“The change in Grace’s life and recovery is nothing short of amazing. We will be forever grateful to the donor and her family for the precious gift they gave her,” says Jamie Jennings, Grace’s mother.
To learn more about the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease, visit here.