Sep 17, 2020, 10:11:41 AM CDT Sep 17, 2020, 11:21:32 AM CDT

Riley survives heart failure and shows her strength

How a ventricular assist device helped Riley recover and make it to her heart transplant

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When Riley was 7 years old, she caught a cold. It was the same cold her three sisters had come down with. But as Riley's sisters quickly got better, she struggled to recover.

Riley's mom, Lisa, took her daughter to their pediatrician. A chest X-ray revealed the shocking reason why Riley wasn't recovering: Her heart was failing. Riley's condition quickly became worse, and she was admitted to Children's Medical Center Dallas for care.

Riley"Her heart had been sick for a while, and when she got that cold, it showed how sick her heart was," explains Jodie Lantz, MSN, APRN, PCNS-BC, Ventricular Device Specialist at Children's Health℠.

Riley had dilated cardiomyopathy or an enlarged heart. This meant Riley's heart had less power to pump blood. Doctors thought the cardiomyopathy was likely caused by a genetic variant affecting her heart muscle – something she was born with that had not caused any problems, until now.

The team at the Heart Center moved fast to implant a ventricular assist device (VAD). A VAD is a mechanical pump that does the work of the heart to circulate blood throughout the body.

The VAD not only helped save Riley's life, but also gave her the chance to be a kid again. "It's like she came to life when she got her VAD," says Lisa.

Because the device helped Riley's heart function, she was able to participate in physical therapy and regain some of her strength while she waited for a heart transplant. At therapy, she played with her nurses and therapists. She'd ride her bicycle through the halls of the hospital, and even play outside in the courtyard with team members, her medical equipment in tow.

"Even when you're hurting, you should get up instead of lying in bed," Riley encourages others. "Because when you get up, you get stronger."

RileyAll the while, Riley waited for the news that a new heart was available.

"Her strength, will and drive, and just pushing through this entire process – which was by no means easy – is just a testament to what a wonderful child she is," says David Sutcliffe, M.D., Medical Director of the VAD program at Children's Health and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern.

Seven months after coming to Children's Health, Riley received a heart transplant. The 8-hour-long operation was a success. While Riley's recovery took time and included challenges, she persisted. Today she's doing well, and her family is grateful for the care she received at Children's Health – and for the gift of organ donation, which has allowed Riley to return to home, to school and to a normal childhood.

"They gave us the gift of life," Lisa says. "How do you thank someone for that?"

Learn more

The expert team at the Children's Health Heart Center provides advanced care, from heart transplants to neonatal heart surgeries. Learn more about our full range of pediatric cardiology services.

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