On the Pulse

“300 Chances to Grow Up”: Seattle Children’s Marks 300 Heart Transplant Milestone

2.27.24 | Ashley Speller

Seattle Children’s heart transplant patient, Gabrielle (left 2010, right 2024)Seattle Children’s heart transplant patient, Gabrielle (left 2010, right 2024)

In February of 2024, the Seattle Children’s Heart Transplant and Cardiac Surgery teams reached a remarkable milestone moment during American Heart Month by completing 300 heart transplants since the Heart Transplant Program was established in 1994.

Pediatric heart transplants, which occur when surgeons replace an infant, child, teen or young adult’s diseased heart with a healthy heart from a donor, are extraordinarily complex procedures that require coordinated care by doctors, nurses and technicians before, during and after transplant.

One Seattle Children’s family from Washington County, Ore., has lived this journey not just once — but twice — after learning that their newborn, Gabrielle, had hypoplastic left heart syndrome and a coronary artery fistula, which would require a transplant.

“Learning my baby had a heart defect was a shock and learning my baby had a second heart defect was unthinkable,” shared Christen, Gabrielle’s mom, in early 2014. “Learning about the heart transplant took my shock to a whole other level.”

Gabrielle received a heart transplant at Seattle Children's in 2010Gabrielle received a heart transplant at Seattle Children’s in 2010.

After six months on the waiting list, Gabrielle finally received her new heart, and was able to go home after just 14 days in the hospital. For the next eight years, Gabrielle’s life was almost like that of any other kid her age.

“She was acting and behaving fine but suddenly in the summer of 2018, Gabrielle started having random fevers,” Christen recalled. “The doctors found, not rejection, but coronary artery disease that was severe. Her heart was really sick. There had not been any indications that this was happening, it was really fast.”

Doctors at Seattle Children’s soon determined that Gabrielle needed a second transplant emergently and was listed within 24 hours. This time, the family was on the waiting list for approximately one month until a match was found for Gabrielle.

Gabrielle, pictured at age 8, waiting for a second heart transplantGabrielle, pictured at age 8, waiting for a second heart transplant

Today, now six years post her second heart transplant, Gabrielle is a vibrant 13-year-old middle school student who is participating in the “Frozen Junior” school play this year and is interested in potentially pursuing a career in medicine one day.

“If you do not know our family, you could not identify that she is a transplant kiddo,” said Christen. “She loves school, Broadway shows, and has a whole gaggle of friends.”

Gabrielle is one of the hundreds of children who are living their healthiest and most fulfilling lives possible after receiving care in Seattle Children’s Heart Center, consistently ranked among the top pediatric cardiology and heart surgery programs in the country.

“I just love hearing that Seattle Children’s has reached the number 300 for heart transplants,” said Christen tearfully. “That is 300 chances to grow up, 300 chances to go to school dances, 300 chances to play baseball — all of the things that some people don’t think are important because they just seem like daily life. It’s an opportunity for these kids that they wouldn’t have had and 300 families that get to be together.”

Gabrielle, age 13, (pictured far right) with her family today, over one decade after receiving her first transplant at Seattle Children's Heart CenterGabrielle, age 13, (pictured far right) with her family today, over one decade after receiving her first transplant at Seattle Children’s Heart Center

More than one decade after first being admitted into the hospital, Gabrielle still receives follow-up care at Seattle Children’s for quarterly check-up appointments and regular lab work.

The whole family extends their gratitude to not only the health teams involved in Gabrielle’s life-saving care, but also to the 300 incredible organ donation families.

“Their hearts are hurting too,” added Christen. “We get the upside of the transaction — more time as a heart recipient family — and they don’t. One doesn’t happen without the other. We are so thankful.”