The numbers tell the story of the heart transplant program at Children’s of Alabama.
• 176 pediatric heart transplants since 1981
• 59 transplants since 2012
• Zero deaths since 2014
• A 97 percent one-year survival rate over the last decade — considerably higher than the national rate of 90.2 percent
One major reason? “We have a very cohesive, experienced, stable team,” said Medical Director F. Bennett Pearce, M.D. That team includes surgical director Robert J. Dabal, M.D., pediatric cardiologist Waldemar F. Carlo, M.D., and pediatric surgeon David C. Mauchley, M.D., as well as four cardiac nurse practitioners, three of whom are certified clinical transplant coordinators.
Until 2012, the pediatric transplant program was housed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). But with the opening of the new children’s hospital that year, the transplant team was able to create a separate entity and move into a state-of-the-art cardiac care facility at Children’s. Today, it serves as a regional referral center and is the only pediatric heart transplant program in the state. The program also provides comprehensive care for patients with advanced heart failure using evidence-based medical management and mechanical circulatory support. Its surgeons also perform heart transplants, including ABO incompatible transplants, in infants.
Although the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) considers the Children’s program to be a relatively young program, Pearce said, “the reality is far different” given the team’s depth and length of experience. The team is also diverse, he said, bringing different viewpoints and interests, which expands the program’s potential.
Moving to Children’s brought several advantages, he said, particularly access to pediatric specialists. “We can provide better multidisciplinary care for patients,” he said. The program also now has its own administrative structure and identity, providing families with a central place to call with questions or concerns.
The center also features dedicated social workers, child life therapists, physical/occupational therapists, dietary counselors, psychosocial counselors, specialty pharmacists and pastoral care. “We realize that when a patient is listed for transplant that you’re entering into a relationship the family as well as the patient,” Pearce said, “and we do all we can to optimize that relationship.”
Research is a major part of the program, he said, with ongoing studies on cardiomyopathy, pulmonary hypertension and heart transplantation. For instance, one major study is evaluating alternative immune suppression techniques for post-transplant children. The center also participates in numerous quality initiatives with other transplant programs around the country in order to identify best practices.
Largest Pediatric Heart Transplant Registry in the World
UAB houses the international Pediatric Heart Transplant Society, which maintains the largest registry in the world on heart transplantation. Data from the registry is used to encourage and stimulate basic and clinical research in the field of pediatric heart transplantation and to promote new therapeutic strategies. Since its founding in 1993, data from the registry has been used to produce more than 100 abstracts and presentations, and 87 publications. Today, 56 centers participate in the registry, which contains information on more than 6,542 transplants. James Kirklin, M.D., who was surgical director of Adult and Pediatric Heart Transplant program at UAB and Children’s until his retirement from clinical work in 2017, initiated the registry.
The Heart of It All
Visit www.childrensal.org/advanced-heart-failure-and-transplant to learn more about the Pediatric Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant team at Children’s of Alabama.