Dell Children’s celebrates 13-year-old’s heart transplant

News

Dell Children’s Medical Center and UT Health Austin, the clinical practice of Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, are proud to announce 13-year-old Grace Jennings is home after receiving a long awaited heart transplant. Grace received her heart transplant on January 26, after waiting 15 months for a donor heart while on a lifesaving mechanical heart pump. Grace is the second pediatric heart transplant recipient 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 to implant a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), which is a 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 waiting for a heart transplant at her home in San Antonio. She attended school and remained active at home while being supported by the LVAD. 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. Dell Children’s 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,” said Dr. Charles Fraser, chief of Pediatric and Congenital Surgery for UT Health Austin’s Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease at Dell Children’s. “Grace has an indomitable spirit, and she’s determined to get better and stronger everyday.”

“Grace was in end-stage heart failure, and the ten-hour heart transplant surgery involved a dedicated transplant team that includes surgeons, perfusionists, transport team, anesthesiologists and transplant coordinators all invested in her critical care,” said Dr. Ziyad Binsalamah, surgical director of Heart Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support at Dell Children’s. “Her outcome was amazing.”

Dr. Chesney Castleberry is the medical director of the Heart Failure, VAD, and Transplant Program and is the pediatric heart muscle disease specialist caring for Grace. Dr. Castleberry emphasized, “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 returned home to San Antonio on March 5. She looks forward to returning to school and continues 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,” said Jamie Jennings, Grace’s mother.