Martrize Dean, better known as TJ, was admitted to Holtz Children’s Hospital at Jackson Memorial Medical Center in February for severe heart failure, secondary to dilated cardiomyopathy. It’s a rare disease that causes the weakening and enlargement of the heart that affects about 1 in 100,000 children.

TJ was resuscitated by UHealth chief of congenital heart surgery Eliot Rosenkranz, MD, MBA, upon on admission and emergently put on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenator (ECMO).

“He already had several organs affected and had to be placed on the ECMO machine to help the work of the lungs and the heart,” said Dr. Rosenkranz. “It was crucial for his survival.” 

Although the actual cause of dilated cardiomyopathy is unknown, it can be brought on by common viruses. The diagnosis came as a shock to the family because TJ was athletic and led a healthy life.

“When I first learned about TJ’s condition, I was heartbroken, nervous, and scared,” said his mother Dominique Dean. “I never thought this could happen to any child his age.”

Shortly after the placement of the ECMO, UHealth – University of Miami Health System transplant surgeons Matthias Loebe, MD, PhD, FCCP, FACC, and Nicolas Brozzi, MD,  switched him to the Heartware ventricular assist device (HVAD). This device is a mechanical pump inserted inside the chest to help heart function. However, since TJ’s organs were affected, he was placed on the national transplant waiting list for both a heart and kidney.  

“The advantage of this device is that it helped TJ live a normal life as he waited for a heart and kidney transplant,” said Paolo Rusconi, MD, TJ’s UHealth pediatric cardiologist.

When summer came around, TJ was just short of his 13th birthday, and not expecting what would come next. The team of physicians and nurses caring for him came together to grant a particular wish he had – to leave the hospital to spend the day at Dave & Buster’s at Dolphin Mall with family and friends.

“There is so much intensity that goes into medical therapy, the emotional component is so important for pediatric patients,” said cardiothoracic vascular surgeon, Dr. Brozzi. 

The Holtz Children’s PediPals team, psychologists, physical therapists, and the City of Miami Fire Rescue crew that volunteered to transport everyone to the arcade venue, were all part of making this request come true.

“The PediPals team was asked to help improve his quality of life and hopefully increase his mental wellbeing in the hopes that this would aid in improving his physical and nutritional status,” said Kimberly Juanico, RN, BSN, CHPPN, pediatric palliative care nurse coordinator at Holtz Children’s. “To see his face when he realized he was leaving the hospital for a few hours, just to be a kid, made it all worth it.” 

TJ’s mom received the call the morning of September 3 from Dr. Rusconi that transplant organs had become available.

“I knew what that call meant and I cried repeatedly for hours,” Dominique Dean said. “The news was bittersweet; not only was I filled with joy but also pain because I knew in order for my son to get back to his old self, it meant someone had lost their life. 

TJ underwent a heart transplant on the same evening, with the surgery being performed by Dr. Rosenkranz, and Dr. Loebe. Two days later, he received a kidney transplant from Jose M. Figueiro, MD, an associate professor of clinical kidney/pancreas surgery at the University of Miami Medical School and the Miami Transplant Institute.

“In the future for my son, I would just like for him to know how blessed he is and how he should use his gift to help others who may go through the same thing as him,” Dominique Dean said. “TJ is looking forward to coming home to see his family, friends, and his dog – he’s happy surgery is over and can’t wait until he can be his old self.

The Miami Transplant Institute at Jackson Memorial Hospital is the only heart transplant program in Miami-Dade County to do pediatric and adult transplantation. It is the largest heart transplant program in the South Florida region and one of two centers in the state that perform heart-lung transplant program.
“Pediatric VADs are very uncommon procedures,” said Dr. Loebe.  “We are fortunate to be one of the few places in the world to have the experts necessary to make a highly complex case a success.”