Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

500th Heart Transplant Patient Going Strong

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

500th Heart Transplant Patient Going Strong

Article excerpt

Byline: Tim Gilmore, Shorelines correspondent

Though he feels tired, Christopher Stephens feels better than he's ever felt before. After dealing with heart problems from the age of nine months, the 16-year-old Ponte Vedra Beach boy was the beneficiary of the 500th heart transplant performed at Shands Health Care Center in Gainesville.

Stephens is one of the 125 to 175 children now treated yearly at the UF Pediatric Cardiovascular Center in Jacksonville. The center opened in its new location at 1443 San Marco Blvd. in December as a partnership between Shands and Wolfson Children's Hospital.

Stephens said he feels completely different from how he did before the transplant May 25.

"I was really sick and could hardly breathe before, but afterwards, I felt so much better right away. It was so fast. My heartbeat feels different," he said.

Stephens was born with a heart condition known as dextrochardia, said his mother, Kay Stephens. His heart was on the wrong side of his chest, ventricles were pumping blood to the wrong places and there were holes in the walls of his ventricles.

He was diagnosed at nine months and has had several surgeries through the years.

"About two years ago, as his heart started failing more, there was a sense that it was time to look for a better alternative," she said.

Fortunately, there were many more alternatives available than there had been when Stephens was younger.

Kay Stephens said that though heart transplants had been done for several years, the most important advances came in anti-rejection drugs.

"Heart transplants were done, but the big problem was the body rejecting the new heart," she said.

Robert H. Miller, the physician who diagnosed Christopher almost 16 years ago, was the first physician to specialize solely in pediatric cardiology in Jacksonville. He said he is thrilled to see the advances that have been made in the field.

"It's extremely gratifying," he said. "When I was in training, we would see lesions in the heart that left no choice but for the children to die. There was nothing you could do. Today, there's so much more you can do."

Miller said the center in San Marco is unique because institutions have cooperated in one program, while in other cities, there are competing programs. …

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