New heart saves infant with cardiomyopathy

New Jersey boy Christopher Piccininni got a new lease on life with a Heart Transplant at just 6 months old.

Christopher Piccininni turned eight in June 2009. He loves playing with LEGOs and Star Wars games, climbing monkey bars and riding the waves at the ocean. But if you saw him, with his smiling face and friendly demeanor, you wouldn’t know that soon after he was born, his life was threatened because of an enlarged heart.

Christopher, who lives in Fairlawn, New Jersey, with his parents, Frank and Jacky, and his three year old brother, Ryan, is alive today only because he received a heart transplant at The Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan when he was just six months old.

Christopher was born on June 11, 2001. Ten weeks later he came down with a cold. At the doctor’s office, Christopher’s oxygen levels dropped and he started turning blue. An ambulance rushed Christopher to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey, where a chest x-ray revealed that Christopher’s heart was enlarged.

"Christopher was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition where the enlarged heart is unable to pump blood adequately to the rest of the body," Jacky says. "Doctors don’t know what caused it, whether it was a genetic defect or a viral infection. When the doctors finally came out to talk to Frank and me, we were told they weren’t sure if Christopher would make it through the night. We called a priest, and Christopher was baptized that night in the hospital."

On September 5, one week after he entered St. Joseph’s, Christopher was transferred to The Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. There, the Piccininnis were told that Christopher needed a heart transplant.

The Piccininnis placed Christopher’s name on the transplant waiting list on October 5. After months of anxiety, including "celebrating" Thanksgiving at the hospital under the most difficult of circumstances, Christopher received his new heart in a four-hour operation the morning of December 13, 2001. The operation was a success, and Christopher left Mount Sinai four and a half weeks later, on January 9, 2002.

For a year after the transplant, Christopher took as many as 13 different medications a day. He also was fed through a tube until he was two and a half. But today, Christopher is an active and happy child. In addition to climbing monkey bars and spending time in the ocean, he has fun rollerblading with his friends. And he plays with Ryan. These activities are truly remarkable when you consider that his life was threatened so soon after his birth.

If it weren’t for Christopher’s anonymous donor and the baby’s family who consented to donation, the miracle of transplant at Mount Sinai would not have been possible.