November 18, 2005

Heart/lung transplant patient recovering at Children’s Hospital

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Sierra Sekulich has a laugh in her room in the PCCU a few weeks before her transplant.
photo by Dana Johnson

Heart/lung transplant patient recovering at Children’s Hospital

A 15-year-old Coffee Co., Tenn., 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.

Sierra Sekulich is also the youngest patient at Vanderbilt to receive this type of transplant. The surgery took place Nov. 8.

Sekulich has been a patient in the Pediatric Critical Care Unit (PCCU) at Children's Hospital since August after her heart and lungs failed because of familial pulmonary hypertension.

She had a long history of corrective heart surgeries, and in 1995 was the first child at Vanderbilt to be put on the pulmonary hypertension drug Flolan.

But when her medications stopped working, a triple-organ transplant was the only option for 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 Children's Hospital and the Heart and Lung Transplant team at Vanderbilt University Hospital. Cardiothoracic surgeons Frank Scholl, M.D., and Eric Lambright, M.D., worked together with members of their respective teams during the 10-hour procedure.

“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, 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 said the procedure was more common a decade ago. However, due to the perpetual shortage of organs, doctors have worked hard to repair diseased hearts when possible. Fewer than 100 heart and double-lung transplant surgeries are performed each year around the world.

Sekulich is the youngest patient to undergo a heart and double-lung transplant in Vanderbilt's history.