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When it came time to blow out his candles on his 14th birthday, Estefano Reano had only one wish: a new heart. Just 40 minutes later, the Pediatric Heart Transplant team at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital surprised his family with a phone call that made his wish come true, making the Weston teen the hospital’s 30th heart transplant recipient.
“He was playing at home when we got the phone call telling us there was a heart for Estefano,” said Alfonso Ospino, the teen’s stepfather. “I went to my wife with phone in hand with the news and then turned around and said to our son, ‘Get ready – there is another gift waiting for you.’ ”
Today, Estefano is the living legacy of a donor family who gave this pediatric heart transplant patient the gift of a new life with his family. Emotions ran high at a recent news conference at the Conine Clubhouse, located adjacent to JDCH, where Estefano and his family were reunited with the heart transplant team. They came to express their gratitude and give moving tributes and heartfelt testimonials urging the community to become organ donors.
“I am so happy to be here and I am so thankful to everyone,” Estefano said. “I want to do many things like travel, and I want to one day run a sanctuary for endangered animals. I thank the family for giving someone like me a second chance to live the life that I always wanted.”
“I prayed and have been grateful to be able to care for my son at home with the help of these doctors,” said Roxana Fergusson, the teen’s mom. “I know there are many children who do not have that opportunity and must live and wait for their hearts in a hospital room. Most importantly, we pray for the family who donated, and I thank them for giving us this gift because I know now that my son has the heart of an angel thanks to them.”
Members of the transplant team spoke about Estefano’s condition that led to his need for a heart transplant and the technological advances that allow children to wait longer for organs than was previously possible. According to the team of doctors at JDCH, every child’s individual condition presents a unique situation and level of complexity.
In the case of Estefano, he was born with a structural heart condition known as single ventricle heart defect, when the heart doesn’t use all four chambers to function normally. Estefano has had five open heart surgeries since the age of 2. While the surgeries allowed his heart to function better and sustain him, the surgeries worked for a few years until he began to get older. A few years ago, his heart began to fail and he was put on the transplant list.
“Estefano waited over two years for his heart,” said Maryanne R. K. Chrisant, M.D., Director, Pediatric Cardiac Transplant, Heart Failure & Cardiomyopathy at JDCH. “He and his family realize that receiving a heart transplant is a second chance for Estefano to lead a more normal life. Estefano is looking forward to returning to school, going out to play athletics and being outside with his friends. His successful course and future dreams coincide with our 30th transplant celebration.”
“As the pediatric heart transplant team here at Joe DiMaggio, we have had the privilege to care for 30 children and provide them with an opportunity for a new life. That is truly an amazing and humbling feeling,” said Frank Scholl, M.D. Surgical Director of Heart Transplantation at JDCH. “At this time and with this great joy, we need to remember to thank our donor families who have given the ultimate gift to another human being. We simply could not do this without them.”
A video of the surgeons and nurses singing Happy Birthday inside the operating room after a successful surgery was posted on the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Facebook page and spread quickly, prompting positive comments and engagement from the community.
The Pediatric Heart Transplant program at JDCH opened on December 10, 2010, when approval at the federal level from UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) was granted. The program’s approval was the culmination of years of strategic planning, including the formation of a pediatric cardiac transplant team with the right mix of expertise and compassion. Five days after program approval, the hospital’s first pediatric heart transplant was performed by the expert cardiac transplant team.