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Youngest Triple-Organ Recipient in Vanderbilt’s History Now Recovering

Nov. 14, 2005, 10:44 AM

A 15-year-old Coffee County girl is recovering after becoming the first child to receive a simultaneous heart and double-lung transplant at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt on Nov. 8.

Sierra Sekulich has been a patient in the Pediatric Critical Care Unit (PCCU) at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital since August after her heart and lungs failed because of a condition called pulmonary hypertension. A triple-organ transplant was the only option for Sierra’s survival.

“It’s like a 30-pound weight has been lifted,” said Anna Sekulich, Sierra’s mother. “Her color is better and we have a very good feeling about it. We are more grateful than we could ever express to the donor family.”

The surgery was a joint effort of the Pediatric Heart Transplant team at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and the Heart and Lung Transplant team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Cardiothoracic surgeons Frank Scholl, M.D., and Eric Lambright, M.D., worked together with members of their respective teams during the 10-hour surgery, which began at 7 p.m. on the evening of Nov. 8 and was completed at 5 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 9.

“Sierra is not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination,” said Scholl. “There are a number of hurdles still, but we are cautiously optimistic at this early stage and are watching her closely. Being the first heart and lung transplant here at the new Children’s Hospital, I have to say the Pediatric Critical Care Unit and operating room staff performed flawlessly. It was a huge team effort and they did a great job.”

Combined transplantation of both lungs and a heart at the same time is rarely performed. Scholl says the procedure was more common a decade ago. However, due to the perpetual shortage of organs doctors have worked hard to repair diseased hearts, rather than transplanting whenever possible. Fewer than 100 heart and double-lung transplant surgeries are performed each year around the world.

Sierra is the youngest patient to undergo a heart and double-lung transplant in Vanderbilt’s history. The second youngest patient was a 16-year-old boy. His surgery was performed at Vanderbilt University Hospital in 1995.


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