Premature Baby Becomes Youngest Person to Successfully Receive Heart Transplant

National   |   Sarah Zagorski   |   Feb 16, 2015   |   4:18PM   |   Washington, DC

In Arizona, Caylyn Otto bought a bracelet for her unborn son, but not for his baptism; instead, the bracelet was for his funeral. She said, “I pictured it being on an urn or being buried with him.”

When Otto was 20-weeks pregnant doctors told her and her partner, Chris Crawford, that their son’s heart was significantly enlarged and to prepare for the worst. He was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, which is a disease of the heart muscle that causes the organ to become weakened and enlarged, making it unable to pump blood properly. It was possible that their baby would be stillborn or if born alive, they would have to consult with hospice caregivers. However, their son, who they named Oliver, was born alive seven weeks early (33-weeks) on January 5th, 2015.

After his birth, doctors decided that Oliver needed a heart transplant immediately. In most cases infants need to reach the gestational age of 36-weeks before undergoing a transplant but Oliver was the exception and was placed on the transplant list. Dr. John Nigro, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, said that his enlarged heart was the size of a five-year-old child’s and was affecting his lungs and kidneys.


Amazingly, a donor heart became available a few days after Oliver was placed on the list and a surgical team led by Dr. Nigro decided to go through with the 10-hour procedure. Dr. Daniel Velez, who was in charge of the donor heart, said “If you get the perfect donor, you may never get that donor again.”

According to the Associated Press, Dr. Velez said the hospital conducts about one heart transplant a month. But the last time the procedure was performed on someone as young as Oliver was about a year ago. Dr. Nigro added, “He’s a real fighter. There’s no question about that.”

Crawford said that after the transplant his son looked like a new baby; and even though Oliver will be on immunosuppressant drugs the rest of his life, there’s no reason not to expect that he can’t go on to live a normal life like going to school and playing sports.

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He said now he and Otto can joke that the size of their son’s heart was an indicator of who he is as a person. Crawford concluded, “That’s been the joke: He had too much love. He had to give it away.” Currently, Oliver is the youngest baby in U.S. history to receive a heart transplant successfully.