APRIL 2019 Giving and Growing

Gabbi Smith, UMMC’s youngest heart transplant patient, holds her sonographer’s hand.
Gabbi Smith, UMMC’s youngest heart transplant patient, holds her sonographer’s hand.
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Our patients: Thriving after heart transplant, tragic fire, Gabbi Smith turns 1

Published on Monday, April 22, 2019

By: Annie Oeth, aoeth@umc.edu

Gabrielle Smith looks, smiles and plays like a strong, healthy 1-year-old baby, but that wasn’t always the case.

The youngest patient ever to undergo a heart transplant at UMMC, Gabbi celebrated her first birthday last Dec. 26, due in no small part to the love and dedication of her great aunt, Cindy Thompson of Bassfield.

While awaiting a new heart, Gabbi stayed in her patient room at Batson Children’s Hospital. Her family members split their time between Jackson and their home in Bassfield.

On the night of March 3, 2018, Gabbi’s parents, Latoyia and Carlos Smith, and her sister, Ivory, 1, were spending the night at their home when tragedy struck. A fire consumed the house, killing all of its occupants. Gabbi and her adult sister, Jada, who was spending the night with Thompson, were the only surviving family members.

Cindy Thompson holds Gabbi Smith, heart transplant patient, while Dr. Brian Kogon checks her month after surgery. Looking on is Dr. Avichal Aggarwal, pediatric cardiologist.

Cindy Thompson holds Gabbi Smith, heart transplant patient, while Dr. Brian Kogon checks her month after surgery. Looking on is Dr. Avichal Aggarwal, pediatric cardiologist.

“It was awful,” Thompson said, “losing them all on the same day. We have a close family.” She said the family was worried about Gabbi’s condition, “but she gave us hope, too.”

The demands of follow-up care after a heart transplant required doctors to be certain Gabbi had a caregiver willing to take on responsibilities of her care, said Dr. Avichal Aggarwal, Gabbi’s  pediatric cardiologist at the Children’s Heart Center at Batson Children’s Hospital and medical director of UMMC’s Pediatric Heart Transplant Program.

“Some of her medications have to be given every four hours around the clock,” Aggarwal said. “Missing a dose, for these patients, could be life-threatening.”

Thompson said she knew what she had to do.

“I didn’t think about it,” said Thompson of the decision to become Gabbi’s guardian. “I just did it because it needed to be done.”

Born with an extraordinarily small right ventricle and abnormal coronary arteries, Gabbi’s congenital heart condition left her with a high risk of sudden death, Aggarwal said.

Portrait of Brian Kogon
Kogon

Dr. Brian Kogon, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at Batson Children’s Hospital, said a requirement of receiving a heart transplant is to have a stable support system for the care that will follow. Thompson, who has no children of her own, stepped forward to raise her great niece, paving the way for Gabbi to receive the heart that became available to her on March 27, 2018.

“The transplant went well and was without major complications,” Kogon said. “Her hospital stay was prolonged, only because of her young age, small size and her being so sick and debilitated at the time of transplant.”

Thompson, said Kogon, “is doing a wonderful job. Gabbi looks terrific!”

Gabbi’s heart transplant in 2018 followed four pediatric heart transplants performed at Children’s Hospital in 2017. The five children are all in good condition, Kogon said.

“Offering a pediatric heart transplant program in Mississippi provides the complex care some children need to survive,” said Dr. William Moskowitz, chief of pediatric cardiology at UMMC. “Providing world-class cardiac critical care close to home is part of our mission at Batson Children’s Hospital and Children’s of Mississippi.”