April 5, 2012

Baby’s heart transplant lets parents finally hold him close

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Keith and Christy Hagewood with their two-month-old son, Andrew, who underwent a heart transplant at Vanderbilt last week. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Baby’s heart transplant lets parents finally hold him close

Christy and Keith Hagewood stroked their son’s cheeks and rubbed his tiny pink hands, praying for the day when they could hold him longer than a scant few minutes.

Andrew Preston Hagewood was born Feb. 6 with an enlarged heart and needed a transplant. The Hagewoods could pick Andrew up for short moments, but couldn’t stray far from the life-saving machine he was connected to. After seven weeks, their prayers were answered.

Andrew’s new heart arrived Friday, March 30. He was awake and doing well earlier this week.

“The best part will be getting to hold him,” his mother said hours after the transplant, tearing up. “We’ve held him for just a few minutes. So, we’re really excited about getting to hold him.” Christy Hagewood has worked at Vanderbilt for 17 years.

Until the transplant, Andrew spent seven weeks on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. The heart support machine did the work his heart could not – pump blood around his body.

He set a record at Vanderbilt for most time spent on ECMO – 50 days. ECMO has been used for infants and children at Vanderbilt since 1989. Andrew, whose lungs were healthy, also was the first Vanderbilt patient on ECMO without a breathing tube, made possible by Brett Mettler, M.D., director of Pediatric Cardiac Transplantation.

Typically, infants only can be on ECMO for about two to three weeks because risks increase for kidney failure, stroke and other infections. They also must be sedated and on a ventilator. The average wait for a heart transplant is six to eight weeks.

Awake and breathing on his own, Andrew could interact with his family, watch his twin sisters sing to him over video phone and be held by his parents.

“The more dramatic news about this is how well Andrew had done for so long with the team running ECMO,” said David Bichell, M.D., chief of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery. “It’s a tribute to the team. The pressure is on once you’re on ECMO and the clock is ticking.”

Andrew’s story garnered attention from local media and 1,000 fans across the world who followed daily updates from his parents on Facebook. The family received prayers via email, letters and social media from all 50 states and spots around the globe, including Argentina, Jerusalem, the Philippines and Paraguay.

His parents shared his story to raise awareness about organ donation. They encouraged people to register as a donor, not just for Andrew’s sake but for all patients waiting for transplants.

They found out Thursday, March 29, that a heart was available.

“It’s shock, jubilation, tears that our hopes and prayers had come to fruition,” Keith Hagewood said.

The Hagewoods know their joy, however, was another family’s sorrow, and were praying for the infant who died.

“We know they’re going through a lot of grief,” said Christy Hagewood. “We’re so thankful not just for Andrew but because there is more than one recipient from a donor. So that tiny child has saved many lives.”

Andrew will be able to go home in about two weeks. He will be greeted by his 10 year-old twin sisters and a 14-year-old sister.

“He will go to school, play sports, do normal little boy things,” said Christy Hagewood. “God has given Andrew great strength to get through to this moment.”