Eric and Raul

Two Boys, Two Hearts

Eric and Raul share their story at the Holiday of Miracles Radiothon in December, 2014.

Alma and Rogelio Montaño were excited to welcome their twin boys, Eric and Raul, into the world at 37 weeks. Shortly after birth, doctors discovered that Eric suffered from a condition called restrictive cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the heart walls become stiff and limit the heart from filling with blood properly. To save Eric’s life, he had open heart surgery at just two months old to fix his aorta. As a result of his breathing and heart difficulties early in life, Eric experienced slightly delayed cognitive learning, speech and motor skills. As the disease progressed, he became limited in what he could do, including participating in sports and playing with friends. His only chance for a long, healthy life was a heart transplant.

Around the age of 8, Eric’s brother, Raul, began to show signs of trouble. During exercise, he would have difficulty keeping up, shortness of breath and chest pain. Alma and Rogelio brought him to Rady Children’s, where doctors confirmed that Raul suffered from the identical condition.

“My boys are not quitters. They wanted to keep up with their cousins. I try not to see them as sick, but I treasure every moment,” Alma shared.

Eric is discharged from Rady Children's on January 27,2015, 13 days after receiving a life-saving heart transplant.

On January 14, 2015, Alma received the most important call of her life: Eric, now 11 years old, would receive a heart transplant. Just a few hours later, Eric was taken to the operating room and prepped for surgery. The carefully timed operation involved transporting the donor heart to Rady Children’s from another state and then, moments after the new heart arrived, removing Eric’s failing heart and replacing it with the healthy donor heart. The operation took six hours from start to finish.

“This incredible milestone is the culmination of years of planning and preparation – and the courageous act of a family who chose to donate life,” said Hospital President Donald Kearns, MD. “The ability to perform heart transplants here in San Diego means comprehensive care for all children with any form of heart disease. Families will no longer have to relocate to other cities for a heart transplant and can stay close to home and loved ones.”

Rady Children’s cardiac transplant surgeon and Surgical Director Eric Devaney, MD, led the transplant surgery. He traveled by plane to the donor hospital to retrieve the heart, carefully transported it back to Rady Children’s, and then immediately joined cardiac transplant surgeon Daniel DiBardino, MD, in the operating room. The surgeons removed Eric’s failing heart and sutured the new donor heart into place.

“Performing a heart transplant truly takes a team effort,” said Dr. Devaney. “In addition to the cardiologists and surgeons involved, the transplant team is comprised of a variety of healthcare professionals, including a transplant nurse, a pathologist, a pharmacist, physical and occupational therapists, social workers, dietitians, and child life specialists.”

 Transplant cardiologist and medical director Rakesh Singh, MD, MS, monitored Eric before the surgery and will oversee his post-operative care.

“Dr. Singh is an amazing physician. He has given me a lot of hope. I trust him” Alma said.

“To be able to tell families great news like this – that their child will get a new heart — is what I love best,” said Dr. Singh. “It provides such a sense of relief and hope.”

“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Alma. “It’s been tough, but all of the support from the cardiac team at Rady Children’s has made it easier for us. We’re so proud and excited, and we know that Eric is in good hands.”

Although heart transplant patients must remain on various medications for the rest of their lives, most are able lead normal lives, return to school full time and participate in activities they were unable to do before transplantation. For Eric, that means playing soccer with his friends again.

“There are no words. I can’t express myself,” Alma said following the transplant. “My son has a new life, a new heart, and we’re just so grateful and thankful.”

“There’s no reason he can’t have this heart for decades to come, if he takes care of it,” Dr. Singh said.

When asked whether he wanted to say anything to his doctors, Eric thought for a moment, and then, tears welling up in his eyes, said, “thank you for my new heart.”

Originally published January 2015