Six months ago, a parvovirus destroyed his heart and put him in cardiac arrest. Today, after resuscitation, a heart-lung machine, respirators, an experimental heart, and a heart transplant, 2-year-old Harold “TJ” Wilson has returned home to Adams, Butler County, where he again plays with Thomas the Tank Engine and watches "Elmo" DVDs. McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Peter Wearden, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery, and Director of Pediatric Mechanical Cardiopulmonary Support at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, and one of the transplant team’s surgeons, said TJ "went through the wringer."
Children's, one of the busiest transplant centers in the nation, does 20 pediatric lung, heart, and heart-lung transplants a year. It's also a leading center for heart-assist devices. TJ was fortunate to be in the ideal place during his recovery’s most critical junctures.
The critical heart/lung medical devices—the Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine and the Berlin Heart—were both utilized in TJ’s care. Each of these devices supported TJ when his body could not. They served as two significant bridges to a successful heart transplant.
TJ’s case marked the first time ECMO was used in Children's emergency room; placing tubes in his neck while he was undergoing chest compressions added to the challenge. Because the Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve its use in the United States, Children's Hospital had to seek a "compassionate use" permit before implanting the Berlin Heart. The FDA gave its approval—the fifth one Children's has received—and a Berlin Heart was shipped in from Germany.
In addition to the superior medical team and devices, doctors said it helped that TJ was strong-willed, intelligent, and cooperative. He also benefited from having parents who are good caregivers.
"I have a special fondness for TJ. He has incredible spirit," Dr. Wearden said. "There's something about him, and maybe that's because he went through so much with us."