Dr. Kalfa transplanted the aortic root into Brooklyn’s heart to replace her leaky truncal valve. Because Brooklyn didn’t have a pulmonary valve, Dr. Kalfa also had to reconstruct parts of the right side of her heart so he could transplant the pulmonary valve where it should have been.
Dr. Goldstone finished Mia’s heart transplant around 3 a.m., and then headed across the hall to assist Dr. Kalfa and his team with the remainder of Brooklyn’s surgery. By 5 a.m., Brooklyn’s valve transplant was done; her heart now had a normal anatomy.
The whole team had made history — but mainly, they had given two girls the promise of a normal, healthy future.
“When I went to see Brooklyn’s parents, the whole family was there crying, and actually I cried as well. That was really a meaningful moment in my life,” says Dr. Kalfa. “Bottom line, it was all about compassionate care, teamwork, excellence, and innovation.”
“Being a part of something like this completely rejuvenates you and reinforced to me why I became a doctor,” adds Dr. Goldstone. “It’s an operation I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Thankful for a New Normal
Mia and Brooklyn both recovered well and were discharged within a day of each other about two weeks post-surgery. “Mia has very few, if any, limitations on her lifestyle moving forward. We’ll continue to see her because she does require continuous medical care, but she should have a full, healthy life,” says Dr. Richmond, who is also associate professor of pediatrics in the Department of Pediatric Cardiology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “And both of Brooklyn’s valves are functioning beautifully. We expect her to recover and thrive and grow and do all the normal things that we would want her to do at 3 months old.”
And normal is exactly what the girls’ parents want for them. “We just want to have Mia experience the simple things she missed out on, like going for walks outside or seeing our friends and family at the beach,” says Nicole. “We were here for seven months, and all the staff made the holidays, the weekends, and even the tough times the best they could be while she was living in the hospital.”
“It’s been a long journey,” adds Mia’s dad, James Skaats. “We’re so grateful to everyone for all that they did to get us to this point.”
Brooklyn’s parents already see big changes in her. “She’s constantly cooing and talking to people, she’s very smiley, and she’s starting to grab for things,” says Sam. “My hope for Brooklyn is just having a normal, happy life, with a lot fewer surgeries and procedures.”
Adds Andre, “From the surgeons all the way to the people who restock the equipment that the nurses need, everyone’s been fantastic. We can’t say anything more highly of everybody.”
Before the baby girls’ discharge day, the two sets of parents decided to come together in the playroom to meet the families who had helped change their daughters’ lives — after all, there was no way of knowing if their paths would cross again.
“We have a lot in common,” says Andre. “Meeting them was everything.”
For the staff, seeing the girls leave is bittersweet, but ultimately, it’s the result the team worked so hard for. “Seeing how grateful the families are really just motivates us to continue to push the envelope, continue to offer these newer techniques,” says Dr. Richmond. “To be able to make a difference in the lives of patients is a gift. It’s why we’re here.”