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SALT LAKE CITY -- Surgeons at Primary Children's Medical Center have transplanted Utah's first "incompatible" heart into a three and a half-month-old infant from Lehi. Though the heart was not a match for the boy's blood type, he did not reject it.
Incompatible hearts have been transplanted in selected infants in Canada and at some other medical centers in the United States, but this was the first such transplant for the Intermountain area and Primary Children's Medical Center.
KSL was at bedside while a music therapist hummed and stroked the shoulder of three and a half-month-old Landen Bowers.
Dr. Melanie Everitt, a pediatric cardiologist at Primary Children's, said, "For some reason, these patients who have a transplant in infancy with an incompatible heart donor do not go on to develop antibodies against that heart."
Though Landen's blood is type O, he was able to get an A or B or an AB donor heart because at that young age his immune system had not yet produced antibodies to reject those hearts.
Landen was born with an aggressive form of cardiomyopathy. His dad nicknamed him "Lion" because of the boy's strong fight to stay alive. But in recent weeks that battle weakened; time began rapidly running out.
"We were very concerned that Landen was going to die prior to us finding a suitable donor," Everitt said.
"It was scary, but we felt it was the right thing for our son, and we trusted the doctors at Primary completely," said Tammy Bowers, Landen's mother.
When the new heart arrived, the donor family had sent a little stuffed animal as a gift for Landen.
"The thoughtful family had given us this beautiful lamb in remembrance of their baby," Tammy explained.
"To think that family, in their greatest time of trial, would think to do anything more and above what they had already done was very special," said Joseph Bowers, Landen's dad.
At bedside, the lamb was placed on one side of Landen, the lion on the other. They are symbolic reminders of the ultimate gift and what it means to both families.
"We pray every night for that family and for the gift they gave our son," Tammy said.
The prognosis is excellent, not only for Landen, but other infants who can now draw from a larger pool of donor hearts. As Everitt explained it, "Our standard now is to evaluate every patient less than a year of age who is undergoing a heart transplant to see if they could have an incompatible heart transplant."
Landen was released from Primary Children's Hospital late Tuesday afternoon. He's home now with his healthy incompatible, but very compatible heart.