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January 11, 2012 (WLS) -- They died waiting. In a seven year span, 533 kids hoping for heart transplants did not get one in time. One little girl's surgery could change the rules and help save more lives.
Four-year-old Kallie Finn and her daddy are two of a kind.
"We're real close anyway, she's always been my little buddy," Mitch Finn, Kallie's father, told Action News.
When Mitch Finn was 5 years old, he had to have a heart transplant. This year, he learned Kallie's heart was failing, and she would need one, too.
"It was sick," Kallie said.
A ventricular assist device kept Kallie alive for weeks, but the clock was ticking.
"Essentially three times as many kids die on a waiting list compared to adults," Pirooz Eghtesady, MD, PhD, Chief Section of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine and Co-Director of the Heart Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital, explained.
Kallie's cardiac surgeon made a surprising call. He decided to give her a donor heart other centers had rejected, a heart with a hole in it. Holes in hearts are congenital defects that change the normal flow of blood through the heart. Treatment for the condition has greatly improved over the last few decade, and kids who have it can survive to adulthood.
"It was hard for me to justify throwing away really a good organ for a child who needed it," Dr.Eghtesady said.
Kallie's surgery went perfectly.
"I closed the hole, and then I did the transplant," Dr. Eghtesady stated.
As she gets ready to head home, Kallie's doctor hopes her story opens a door.
"There are probably a lot of hearts that can be used that perhaps are not used and this is an opportunity to extend it cautiously to other organs that may be available," Dr. Eghtesasdy said.
Kallie's doctors are not sure if anyone has ever done a transplant using a heart with a hole in it. Given the same situation, they say they wouldn't hesitate to use a heart with a hole, as long as it was otherwise healthy. They are hoping other doctors will follow suit.