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Published in CenterView on September 26, 2011
Malcolm Jones of Winona, left, talks about going home to play after his heart transplant at UMMC during a Sept. 22 press conference. Reacting to Jones' comments are, from left, his mother, Gina, and Pediatric Heart Transplant Program team members Dr. Avi Aggarwal, Dr. Daniel DiBardino, Dr. Jorge Salazar and Dr. Michelle Sheth.
Malcolm Jones of Winona, left, talks about going home to play after his heart transplant at UMMC during a Sept. 22 press conference. Reacting to Jones' comments are, from left, his mother, Gina, and Pediatric Heart Transplant Program team members Dr. Avi Aggarwal, Dr. Daniel DiBardino, Dr. Jorge Salazar and Dr. Michelle Sheth.

UMMC performs 1st pediatric heart transplant in eight years

By Jen Hospodor

Grinning and wide-eyed, 13-year-old Malcolm Jones was wheeled into a small conference room in the Winfred L. Wiser Hospital for Women and Infants to applause and cheers just four days after receiving a new heart.

Except to say that he was looking forward to going outside to play, Jones, of Winona, spoke few words to reporters and well-wishers gathered at a press conference announcing he was the first pediatric patient in eight years to undergo heart transplant surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

"Malcolm is doing very well," said Dr. Avi Aggarwal, assistant professor of pediatrics and medical director of the pediatric heart transplant program. "He has an excellent prognosis."

Jones' surgery signals the formation of the state's only dedicated pediatric heart transplant team. Led by Dr. Bobby Heath until his untimely death in 2000, the Pediatric Heart Transplant Program had become inactive due to a gradual loss of the highly specialized team members needed to perform these complex surgeries.

The last transplant was performed in 2003 by Dr. Giorgio Aru, professor of surgery at UMMC.

The reactivation of the program has been led by the congenital heart surgery team, which began with the recruitment of Dr. Jorge Salazar, associate professor of surgery and chief of the Congenital Heart Program, in April 2010. Before that, patients needing heart surgery were transferred out of state. Since Salazar's arrival, more than 400 pediatric heart surgeries have been performed at the Medical Center and no patients have been sent out of the state.

"When we started the Congenital Heart Surgery Program, we knew we would eventually have a Pediatric Heart Transplant Program, but we wanted to establish the pediatric heart program first with excellent results and a great infrastructure," Salazar said. "We have that and, with the help of the state of Mississippi, the Medical Center and our Adult Heart Transplant Program, we were able to get the transplant program going again very quickly."

Jones was seriously ill when he arrived at Batson Children's Hospital last month. He was born with tetralogy of fallot, a condition that includes four congenital defects of the heart and major blood vessels. He has had three surgeries to correct the defects, but his left ventricle was failing for unknown reasons, necessitating his placement on the transplant waiting list. Doctors said he was days away from death.

"His transplant was his last chance to grow and develop and have a normal life," said Dr. Daniel Dibardino, assistant professor of surgery, who joined the congenital heart surgery team in July.

"I'm so thankful to God and the doctors and nurses," said Gina Jones, Malcolm's mother. "I just want to see him running around and playing."

Aggarwal said having a formal pediatric heart transplant program fills an important need in the state. Already, four Children's Hospital patients are on the waiting list for a new heart.

"We are very excited about our first congenital heart transplant," Aggarwal said. "Having a program in place, we can better serve children who are waiting and hoping for a new heart."