Chandler toddler first pediatric heart transplant recipient at Phoenix Children's - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Chandler toddler first pediatric heart transplant recipient at Phoenix Children's

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Posted: Thursday, August 18, 2011 2:36 pm | Updated: 11:39 pm, Fri Aug 19, 2011.

Sitting on his grandmother's lap, Jesus Pereya looks out at the cameras, unaware of the fuss being made over him, the "star" of the day.

But back at their Chandler home, his older brother and sister better watch out for the newly energized 22-month-old.

On July 18, Jesus became the first pediatric heart transplant patient at Phoenix Children's Hospital. The hospital's Children's Heart Center just recently earned certification to perform pediatric heart transplants because of a new alliance with Phoenix-based St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center.

Jesus' parents first brought him to doctors when he was 15 months old, said Sharon Pfeiffer, pediatric nurse practitioner transplant coordinator at Phoenix Children's.

He had a respiratory illness and at the time was diagnosed with severe heart muscle weakness. His condition worsened and on July 7, he was brought into the hospital for a complete workup.

Doctors discovered the young boy suffered from cardiomyopathy, a very rare disease that is not often found in children. It causes the heart muscle to become enlarged, thickened or stiff. Often, the disease is only discovered after a sudden death, doctors said Thursday during a press conference at the hospital.

But Jesus was lucky, they said. Less than a week after determining he would be a good candidate for a transplant, a donor heart was found. And only 15 days later, the cherub-faced little boy went home.

"The day after the surgery, he had a big, ole smile on his face. He wanted to get out of the bed," his aunt, Mercedes Beltran, said.

The family struggled to keep him still. With each new visitor he would raise his arms and want out of his hospital bed.

"It was a bit difficult," she laughed.

It was also a side of the young boy the family hadn't seen before - full of smiles, hugs and ready to go.

"I think as a toddler his parents didn't realize how sick he was until he had a new heart," said Dr. Stephen Pophal, a pediatric cardiologist and division chief for the Children's Heart Center.

Though Jesus has recovered from the surgery, he still has a lifetime of monitoring ahead of him.

Several biopsies will take place a few times during the first year to check for any signs of rejection, Pophal said. Staff at the hospital will also monitor Jesus' other organs, such as the kidneys, for any side effects suffered from medications.

"He's not out of the woods yet. The post-transplant care is probably ten-fold the amount of work the three weeks encompassed," Pophal said, noting the time Jesus was in the hospital. "He's part of our family. He's coming to us nearly every single week for the next two months to make sure he's not having any signs of rejection."

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, only four heart transplants have been done this year in Arizona on patients younger than 18 years old. Since 1988, as far as the statistics reach back, only 18 have been performed in Arizona on children 5 or younger. Cardiomyopathy is the leading reason for a heart transplant in children.

"It is one of the most dramatic things we do in medicine," Phoenix Children's Dr. Jeffrey Pearl said. "To take a child who is literally on death's door and transplant him and within hours and the next day they're a totally new person ... It's a great thing to be able to offer to this area."

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