Sofia Rodriguez and CHOC Children’s cardiologist Dr. Anthony McCanta are making medical history. The petite 12-year-old recently became the smallest and youngest patient to receive the Micra® Transcatheter Pacing System (TPS). The innovative physician, who specializes in pediatric electrophysiology, joins an elite group of doctors in the world who have implanted the device, and is likely the first to do so in a child.
About the size of a vitamin, Micra TPS, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last year, provides the most advanced pacing technology at one-tenth the size of a traditional pacemaker. And unlike traditional pacemakers, the device does not have cardiac leads, which are the wires that carry electricity from the pacemaker to the heart and the other way around. This activity occurs between 100,000 to 200,000 times in most children, eventually putting a strain on the leads. The leads can then break or stop working properly, requiring a new device to be implanted.
In addition to being leadless, the Micra TPS is small enough to be delivered through a catheter and implanted directly into the heart instead of a surgical “pocket” under the skin. This offers patients a safe alternative to conventional pacemakers without the complications associated with leads — all while being cosmetically invisible.
Diagnosed shortly after birth with a particularly complex form of tetralogy of fallot, a rare and serious heart condition, Sofia had her first open-heart surgery before turning 1 month old and a second, to implant a traditional pacemaker, when she was 6 months old. Abdominal surgery followed, as did a diagnosis of DiGeorge syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that affects the development of several body systems.
Sofia tackled each health challenge with a fierce determination to survive and, more than that, to enjoy her childhood. Her parents and the team at the CHOC Children’s Heart Institute supported her every step of the way, equally committed to her quality of life.
When the pre-teen needed a new pacing system (the cardiac leads from the first device had broken), Dr. McCanta advocated for the Micra TPS. He knew the benefits it would bring to Sofia, and other CHOC patients.
“The immediate benefit to Sofia is that she does not have another scar on her upper chest. The long-term benefit is she has no cardiac lead in her vein that could break, become infected or cause a blood clot,” explains Dr. McCanta. “When you consider the course of her entire life, the benefit of reducing complications of pacing is almost immeasurable.”
Sofia’s parents are proud of the part she played in the medical milestone. “She’s always been special, and here’s just one more thing that demonstrates how special she truly is,” says Sofia’s dad, Edgar. “We are thankful for people like Dr. McCanta and so impressed with the new technology. We feel truly blessed.”
When she’s not on her computer, Sofia loves watching videos and listening to Latin music. She’s outgoing with lots of friends and a bright future ahead of her.
Suddenly, the 16-year-old has a group of heroes in her life: the coach who resuscitated her on school campus and the CHOC team that treated Katie for three weeks and will continue her care as she navigates life with a newly diagnosed heart condition.
During a recent athletic conditioning class in school, Katie collapsed and went into sudden cardiac arrest.
Her trained and quick-thinking conditioning coach snapped into action and resuscitated Katie with CPR until paramedics could arrive and transport her to CHOC.
“It was the longest 10 minutes of my life,” said Greg Vandermade, Katie’s coach at Mater Dei High School who also credits other students for alerting him to Katie’s condition and calling 911, as well as fellow staff who assisted by obtaining an automated external defibrillator (AED) to shock Katie’s heart into a normal rhythm.
At CHOC, Katie continued to have irregular heartbeats that required further defibrillation and cardioversion, procedures that help restore the heart’s natural heart rhythm, said Dr. Anthony McCanta, a CHOC cardiologist.
Katie also went on extracorporeal life support, a treatment that takes over the heart’s pumping function and the lungs’ oxygen exchange until a patient can recover from injury. This allowed the CHOC Children’s Heart Institute team to continue to treat her life-threatening arrhythmias with medication, Dr. McCanta said.
Dr. McCanta performed an electrophysiology study procedure and implanted beneath Katie’s skin a subcutaneous implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a device that helps prevent sudden cardiac arrest in patients.
After Katie’s discharge and further testing, she was diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia, or ARVD. A rare type of cardiomyopathy where the muscle tissue in the heart’s right ventricle is infiltrated and replaced by fatty tissue and scar tissue, ARVD weakens the heart’s ability to pump blood and makes the heart susceptible to life-threatening arrhythmias.
The diagnosis also means Katie, a cross country and track athlete, will need to give up running for good.
“It was hard at first,” she said.
But instead of sitting on the sidelines, Katie’s decided to pick up golf, a sport that’s compatible with ARVD.
Katie has even begun incorporating a golf swing into her physical therapy sessions at CHOC, and she had two clubs in tow as she, her family and coach Greg visited the CVICU recently.
There, Dr. McCanta and the CHOC team presented Greg with a plaque recognizing him for his swift response and efforts that surely saved Katie’s life.
“Coach Greg responded to Katie with CPR on the spot and saved her life that day,” Dr. McCanta said. “His heroic actions, and those of Katie’s schoolmates and staff, including obtaining and appropriately using the AED, are the reason that Katie is alive today.”
Katie’s story underscores the importance of being trained in CPR and in the use of AEDs, Dr. McCanta said.
“Having AEDs in schools and training staff and students in CPR with an AED are some of the most important interventions that we have in saving lives of young people experiencing sudden cardiac arrest,” he said.
Coincidentally, Katie’s own grandmother, a nurse and health services coordinator in the Irvine Unified School District, has collaborated with LEAPS and helped get AEDs installed on her district’s campuses.
“Never did I think though that this would happen to one of my own family members,” said Marcia, Katie’s grandmother.
For most American families, the Fourth of July ignites thoughts of fireworks, barbecues and outdoor fun with friends and neighbors. For the Thompsons, the summer holiday sparks memories of nurses, doctors and the intensive care unit.
It was July 3. The Thompson family, Eric, Kristen and their two young daughters Kaylee and Sarah, were getting ready to celebrate Independence Day in their close-knit Los Alamitos community. Eight-year-old Sarah was feeling a little under the weather, but was just as eager as the rest of her family for the festivities to begin.
Without warning, party preparations were interrupted by a horrific scream. Kristen raced to find her youngest seizing on the floor. She called 911, and the ambulance brought Sarah to the nearest emergency department. There, Sarah’s high heart rate led doctors to believe she had an arrhythmia. They decided to transport the young patient to CHOC Children’s Hospital.
Shortly after arriving at CHOC, Sarah’s health dramatically declined. Her heart stopped. The cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) team took turns performing CPR with high quality compressions on Sarah for 95 minutes, while another specialized team placed her on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), state-of-the-art technology that supports the heart and lungs by taking over the heart’s pumping function and the lung’s oxygen exchange.
Eric and Kristen watched as 15-20 physicians, nurses and respiratory care therapists worked on their daughter; those performing CPR would rotate after a couple of minutes at the direction of critical care specialist Dr. Francis Kim. After she was placed on ECMO, Sarah was taken to the cardiac catheterization lab, where she was diagnosed with myocarditis. Inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall, myocarditis can affect both the heart’s muscle cells and its electrical system. It’s usually caused by a viral infection and if severe, can weaken the heart’s pumping action. Sarah’s family was in disbelief.
“Sarah seemed to have just a mild cold, and nothing that would have prevented her from enjoying our holiday plans. It was surreal seeing her in the ICU, hooked up to all of the equipment and surrounded by so many specialists,” recalls Kristen.
CHOC kept Sarah on ECMO for five days. Her family and friends waited around the clock, hoping the feisty girl they loved would come out of the traumatic ordeal okay. Hospital staff offered encouraging words, telling Sarah’s loved ones that she was clearly a fighter. And, a scan of her brain looked good, though a complete neurological evaluation couldn’t be completed until she was awake.
Kristen got the first glimmer of hope when, after her daughter’s breathing tube was removed, Sarah said, “I want to go home.” Soon, Sarah started to get bossy with her family members – a sign she was on the mend. Even better, her heart recovered and she suffered no neurological injuries.
Dr. Kim, the primary physician overseeing Sarah’s care, credits the skill and expertise of CHOC’s CVICU staff for her outcome — acknowledgement shared by the Thompson family. “We have an incredible, high-functioning team with vast experience in caring for the most critically-ill children. In Sarah’s case, it took skilled teamwork to put her on ECMO while performing CPR,” explains Dr. Kim. “There’s no room for error. We are thrilled she’s doing so well and has returned to pursuing all of her favorite activities.”
A straight A student, Sarah loves to read. Her dog and sister rank high on her list of favorites. She also takes jazz and hip hop classes, and plays soccer. And, she still looks forward to holiday celebrations with friends and family.
At 27 weeks pregnant, Kayleen Enoka discovered her baby boy, Ryden, had hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a birth defect where the left side of the heart does not form correctly and affects normal blood flow through the heart. As a young, first-time mom, she was overwhelmed by the news.
“I felt incredibly helpless. I felt that I couldn’t do anything to help my baby and I wondered what would happen to him. I also felt that I must have done something wrong during the pregnancy to cause his heart defect. I was reassured by the perinatologist and the cardiologist that his defect wasn’t because of something I had done wrong. My mother sat with me through the diagnosis and held my hand and hugged me as I cried,” Kayleen vividly remembers.
After Ryden was born, he was immediately transferred to CHOC Children’s Hospital to be cared for by our CHOC Heart Institute. Kayleen was a partner in her son’s care from the beginning. He had to undergo a series of three surgeries, performed by Dr. Richard Gates, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at CHOC, with the first one, the Norwood Procedure, at just five days old. During the surgery, Dr. Gates made Ryden’s right ventricle the main pumping chamber for blood flow to his body. A shunt was also placed as a pathway for blood to flow into his lungs to receive oxygen.
“My family and I all sat together waiting for news during the surgery. It was hard, but having so much support helped a lot. I remember when we walked into the room and everyone seemed to be moving so fast. When I asked how he was doing, I was told he was tenuous. That word has resonated with me over the years because I remember feeling that he wouldn’t survive the night. The doctors showed me where the bypass machine was and told me that it was there in case he needed it; again, I was frightened for my baby wondering if he would be strong enough to get through this. I believed in my heart that he was a fighter, but watching all the activity and how small he looked in his hospital bed, made it much harder to believe,” Kayleen says.
Ryden’s second surgery, the Glenn Shunt Procedure, performed when he was 6 months old, was just as scary because Ryden’s health was fragile, Kayleen recalls. The procedure created a direct connection between the pulmonary artery and the vessel returning oxygen-poor blood from the upper part of the body to the heart. After the surgery, Ryden had numerous complications and was hospitalized for 34 days.
By the time of Ryden’s third surgery, the Fontan when he was 4 years old, Kayleen was ready but apprehensive. “Since Ryden was a little older, I could be honest with him. I told him what was going to happen, and even though he was scared, he was aware and was still able to smile,” Kayleen says.
Dr. Gates connected Ryden’s pulmonary artery and the vessel returning oxygen-poor blood from the lower part of the body to the heart, which allowed the rest of the blood coming back from the body to go to the lungs. Ryden spent ten days in the hospital.
Throughout the years, Ryden has experienced arrhythmias, is susceptible to colds, takes multiple medications, and was recently diagnosed with asthma. Kayleen has developed a close relationship with the CHOC Heart Institute team.
“I have always felt like I am a part of the team. In the beginning, I could never have too many questions; the doctors and nurses always took the time to make sure I understood what was happening. Now, when Ryden needs to be hospitalized, the care team always listens to my input. We work together because they understand that I know my son best,” she says.
Among the many experts involved in Ryden’s care, the Enokas have a special relationship with Dr. Anthony Chang, pediatric cardiologist at CHOC.
“Dr. Chang has been amazing. I wouldn’t have chosen another cardiologist because he takes the time to care for his patients. Ryden really admires him and often says when he grows up he wants to work on hearts like him,” Kayleen says.
“Ever since I took care of a baby with HLHS in 1983, my passion to help children with congenital heart disease has never subsided. HLHS is a heart defect that requires the supreme dedication of both doctors and nurses in cardiology and cardiac surgery as well as intensive care. It is, however, parents like Kayleen who continue to inspire all of us to help these children, and humbles us in all that they do when these children are not in the hospital or clinic,” Dr. Chang says.
Kayleen’s appreciation for CHOC and its mission inspired her to become an employee. She works as a department assistant in the clinical education and professional development department. She also volunteers her time as a member of the Family Advisory Council, an important group of patients’ family members who provide input on decisions, initiatives and discussions at CHOC. In addition, Kayleen participates in the CHOC Walk every year with “Team Ryden,” including friends, family and cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) nurses.
Today, Ryden is a happy, fun-loving 7-year-old, who enjoys swimming and playing baseball. Throughout his journey, one thing that has remained unwavering, is Kayleen and Ryden’s close relationship. When Ryden has questions about his heart, Kayleen is always happy to talk openly and lovingly with her son, and reminds him that he has a “special heart.” His middle name — Pu’uwaikila — means “heart of steel,” and Kayleen’s little fighter is surely living up to the name.
As American Heart Month comes to a close, Kayleen offers parents of heart patients the following tried and true tips that have helped her along the way:
1. Trust your child to know his limits. I’ve always let Ryden push himself, while still keeping a close eye on him of course.
When your child is developmetally ready, be open and honest about his condition. You might be worried you’ll scare him/her, but I’ve always felt that Ryden has the right to know what’s happening to him.
Children with congenital heart diseases may have self-esteem issues (i.e. scars, lack of ability to keep up with other children.) Remember to let your child know that he/she is special and what makes them different is also what makes them amazing. I always tell Ryden that his scar on his chest is what shows his strength. And, that chicks dig scars – it’s an inside joke (he’s never allowed to date).
As the only hospital in Orange County to perform open heart surgery on babies and children, CHOC Children’s and its Heart Institute team form special bonds with the patients entrusted to their care.
Many CHOC patients come back to visit and say thank you, some send holiday cards and share school photos so their care teams can see them grow up. A few even return to CHOC as employees, eager to be part of the organization that saved their lives.
Daniel Davis was just 13 years old when Dr. Richard Gates, surgeon-in-chief at CHOC and co-medical director of the Heart Institute, performed surgery on his heart. Eight years later Daniel returned to CHOC as a security officer, helping establish a calm and safe environment at the hospital that cared for him as a teen. He has biannual checkups with Dr. Anthony Chang, pediatric cardiologist at CHOC.
Daniel was born with a subaortic membrane, meaning that his heart had tissue growth below the aortic valve. This caused partial blood flow blockage from the left ventricle, which pumps blood to the rest of the body. This put stress on Daniel’s heart, and if left untreated, could have caused heart failure. He had already gone through his first open- heart surgery at just three days old.
“I grew up in Orange County and wanted to return to CHOC for work because it’s so close to my heart,” he says. “Growing up I wanted to pursue a career in the military, so a security position was a first step, but now I’m pursuing my EMT certification and eventually a career in nursing.”
“I’m constantly impressed by the speed and efficiency of the emergency department staff, how they work at such a high level at such a great speed,” he says. “The emergency department is filled with the unexpected and it keeps you on your toes. Since the ED is so fast-paced, you have to be ready for anything.”
Part of Daniel’s job involves escorting patients and families on campus, as well as to and from the Orange County Ronald McDonald House. On more than one occasion, he’s been able to calm a flustered parent by sharing his story. Seeing an example of the great care CHOC provides is comforting to parents in what can be an otherwise stressful time, he has learned.
When not protecting the hallways of CHOC, he participates in Spartan races, an ultra-competitive obstacle course.
“I never used my heart condition as an excuse to get out of things like physical education class growing up,” he says. “I love being active whenever possible, and encouraging my friends and colleagues in their physical fitness goals as well.”
His commitment to fitness goals does not go unnoticed by his security teammates.
“The obstacle courses Daniel competes in require your body to be pushed to a whole new level,” says Steven Barreda, security services supervisor at CHOC. “Daniel and I work evenings, and on more than one occasion, we’ve worked overtime until 2:00 a.m. and even after a 12 -hour shift, he goes to the gym to train for his next race.”
For Daniel’s surgeons, seeing a former patient grow up to live a normal, healthy life is a joy. Being able to call him a colleague is even better.
“Daniel is fortunate to have a surgically curable condition that when treated properly and timely should allow him a completely healthy and long life, and it’s great that he leads such an athletic lifestyle,” Dr. Gates says. “We have a few patients and parents of patients who work at CHOC. It’s always great and inspiring to hear stories of how they are doing and getting along.”
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