Though baby heart-transplant patient Whitney Ray Petersen has experienced his first episode of rejection with his new heart, doctors say the Utah infant is in good condition and should be leaving the hospital on Friday.
Symptoms of rejection are a normal reaction to transplanted organs, said Dick Schaefer, spokesman for the Loma Linda University Medical Center. Doctors there performed the surgery Nov. 12, when Whitney Ray was 21/2 weeks old. The operation gave the infant his only chance at life after he was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition."A lot of people think it's the final curtain when they hear the word `rejection,' but that's not true," Schaefer said. "If rejection does cause death, it's usually right after surgery, or the result of a patient not taking their medication."
Schaefer said transplant patients experience a period when doctors have to balance possible infection with rejection symptoms. "Doctors have to determine the right amount of medication to balance those factors, and it's different in every baby. That just has to be worked out individually."
He said of the 25 babies that have had transplants at the hospital, only one did not experience at least one episode of rejection. On the other end of the scale, one baby had five different episodes, but Schaefer said the infant is still living, as are all of Loma Linda's baby transplant patients. The oldest of them is now 3 years old, "and you'll be happy to know that when he was 2, he was just as terrible as all other babies are in the `terrible twos.' "
"There's no way to know how long these babies will live. The 3-year-old is doing very well, and we anticipate from the data we have that they may lead a normal life."
Whitney Ray is the son of Daymon and Cynthia Petersen of Murray.