Dell Children’s saves 11-year-old girl with first-of-its-kind heart surgery in Central Texas


AUSTIN (KXAN) — An 11-year-old girl is heading home before Christmas with a mechanical heart pump — a device that saved her life.

But a few months back on Sept. 18, 2019, she was facing heart failure and subsequently suffered a cardiac arrest.

“I was walking to the bus and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I collapsed,” 11-year-old Grace Jennings said.

Dell Children’s Medical Center staff performed CPR on her for nearly two hours to save her life the first time.

Grace sits in rehab. A tube can be seen going through one nostril of her nose. (Photo courtesy of Dell Children’s)

Five days later, Dell Children’s cardiac team needed to perform open-heart surgery on her and implanted a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). The device is a mechanical pump that supports the circulation and partially replaces heart function in people who have weakened hearts, according to Dell Children’s press release.

Dell Children’s cardiac team installed the pump. It’s a first-of-its-kind pediatric heart surgery in a small child — a first for children with heart disease in Central Texas.

“The options before this was available here would be either the patient would not be able to be supported, or if they were fortunate enough to be stable enough, they would have to be put in some form of transport… and sent to Dallas or Houston,” Chief of Pediatric and Cardiothoracic Surgery at Dell Children’s, Dr. Charles Fraser, Jr. said.

Single-mom Jamie and her adopted daughter Grace pose for a picture after the press conference.

Jennings is from San Antonio. Dell Children’s will discharge her from the hospital Monday after spending more than three months at the medical center.

And she won’t be alone. Her mom Jamie will be present to lead her out the hospital doors.

Jamie adopted Grace when she was 18 months. She was born in China with a congenital heart defect that required multiple cardiac operations early in her life.

While this type of operation is frequently performed in adult patients, Grace is the first pediatric patient in Central Texas to undergo this operation and her case was particularly complex, requiring a 10-hour operation to receive the life-saving device.

“My child is here and she wasn’t supposed to be and I am so grateful,” Jamie said.

Grace Jennings moves around in rehab after her first-of-its-kind pediatric heart surgery. (Photo courtesy of Dell Children’s)

The LVAD will help Grace recover and become stronger while she waits for a heart transplant. When asked how she is feeling, Grace said, “I feel good.” A positive vibe going into her birthday tomorrow on Christmas Eve.

Grace received birthday gifts from a couple of kids in the crowd after the press conference.
Grace’s mom Jamie shares her feelings with the room about how far her adopted daughter has come.

Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease at Dell Children’s teamed up with the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas and UT Health Austin.

Dr. Fraser, Jr. said of the next steps for Grace:

I suppose one question that people might be asking is, ‘what’s next for Grace?’ And one of the things that’s amazing is… patients get better and better and better when they’re on these devices. They get stronger. Their nutrition is better. They’re able to be outside the hospital. We have patients that are going to school with these devices. And then there will be a decision at some point about whether or not to do a heart transplant.

Fraser, Jr.

Jamie hopes to possibly have Grace undergo a heart transplant by the end of next year.

Learn more about The Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease at Dell Children’s website.

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