Pediatric Heart Transplant Patients, Families Thank Donors, Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital For New Hearts

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Jaime and Daniela waited for more than a year for donor hearts.

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Jaime Ponce, 6, and Daniela Nunez, 14, both have a second chance at life and are now following their new hearts as children like to do. They are the living legacies of donor families who made it possible for these two pediatric heart transplant patients to celebrate life with their families, physicians and medical staff recently.

During a press conference at the Conine Clubhouse, located adjacent to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, moving tributes and heartfelt testimonials took center stage urging the Hispanic community to become organ donors.

“From the bottom of our hearts, we thank our donor families for what they gave during their time of grief,” said Frank Scholl, MD, Chief, Pediatric & Congenital Heart Surgery Surgical Director, Pediatric Heart Transplant at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital (JDCH). Scholl, who led the team that performed the heart transplants, stressed the importance to individuals of all communities to register to be organ donors and speak to their families about it.

“These two young people would not be here today without the gift of a donor heart. Now they can look forward to a full life with their families,” he said.

Jaime and Daniela had never met before, but their lives will forever be linked through their unique experience of living life with donor hearts. Jaime waited 387 days connected to a Berlin Heart, a mechanical device that functioned as his heart while he waited for a transplant.

For Daniela, her wait was seven months; connected to a pink Berlin Heart she fondly called Sarah. In late July, both kids made history at the hospital by becoming the 19th and 20th heart transplant performed at JDCH since the cardiac transplant program began on December 2010.

While waiting, both patients spent their days at the hospital’s Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, surrounded by doctors and nurses who have now become like a second family. In between checkups and playtime, both Jaime and Daniela became little celebrities tending to media interviews to talk about his love for World Cup soccer stickers and her fascination with anything pink.

Hobbies aside, they also shared their yearning for a new heart – a second chance.

“I didn’t think this day would ever come,” said Deodorica, Jaime’s mom. “I am eternally grateful to the doctors, nurses, staff and hospital for their kindness, care and dedication to keeping him alive. I am so appreciative for the ability to be here with him every day at every moment as they cared for him, my family, and me.”

“I am thankful to everybody here today because these doctors and nurses are heroes,” said Ailed Saavedre, mom to Daniela. “They perform these surgeries as if they are so simple and it is amazing to me how they are saving lives. I can’t begin to explain just how grateful we are. I am most grateful to the donor families for giving my daughter a second chance.”

Cardiologist and cardiac surgeons spoke about the intricacies of Jaime’s and Daniela’s complex cases, their transplants, and the technological advances that allow kids to wait longer than previously possible. According to the team of doctors at JDCH, each child’s unique conditions presented a unique situation and complexity requiring each to be placed on life-saving mechanical devices until a matching donor heart arrived.

“The goal of transplant is to restore children and adults with a normal quality of life for as normal as they are able to pursue,” said Steven Bibevski, MD, PhD, Pediatric & Congenital Heart Surgeon at JDCH. “These children are a testament to all of the research that makes it possible for children to live longer as they wait for a second chance. None of these success stories are possible without continued search for new ways to support our children.”

About Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital

In 1992, Joe DiMaggio himself helped Memorial Healthcare System celebrate the opening of the first Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. Today’s 224-bed hospital opened in 2011 and offers a safe, compassionate and nurturing environment for young patients and their families. With more than 600 board-certified physicians on staff, the hospital’s broad range of pediatric specialties includes: Heart Institute, Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, Cleft and Craniofacial Center, Cystic Fibrosis and Pulmonary Center, Emergency Department and Trauma Center, Endocrinology, General and Thoracic Surgery, Orthopedics, Pediatric Nephrology and Hypertension Program; Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Wasie Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, [U18] Sports Medicine, Outpatient Services and Inpatient/Outpatient Rehabilitation Program.

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Geo Rodriguez
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