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Edmonton Doctors at the Stollery Children's Hospital Pioneer New Transplant Protocol

Written by Catherine Griwkowsky

Stollery Children’s Hospital is the first and only academic health centre in Canada to use anti-rejection therapy in pediatric patients.

A blood plasma therapy used to slow a patient’s immune response is combined with a common cancer treating agent.

“For our perspective this has become our standard approach for these complicated patients,” said Dr. Simon Urschel, Pediatric Cardiologist, Clinical Director Pediatric Cardiac Transplantation, Stollery Children’s Hospital, University of Alberta and researcher at UAlberta’s medical school.

Abigail Fraser was six months old in December 2011 when she became the first patient in Canada to receive the treatment.

Without it, she couldn’t have received a heart transplant.

When Nancy Fraser, Abigail’s mother, was pregnant when she found out her daughter would have Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, meaning the aorta and left ventricle were severely underdeveloped and could not pump blood.

Congenital heart defects affect approximately one per cent of newborns, but HLHS is only one to three per cent of those cases.

Now, the three year old has a new heart and a new chance at life.

HLHS patients receive three surgeries from days after birth until age four, with 75 per cent of patients reaching the third stage of surgery, living for decades after.

Nancy and Jamie Fraser’s older daughter Hailey was also born with HLHS.

Unlike her sister, Abigail experienced complications after the first surgery including cardiac arrest.

Her heart was so weak, she was unable to make it to the second and third stages of the HLHS repair.

While she waited at the Stollery for a heart transplant, her immune system developed anti-bodies used to repair her aorta in the first surgery.

Nancy was devastated when she heard her daughter’s body would reject a transplant.

“They did their best to save her heart, but eventually this treatment became our only option. We are so grateful to the family who made the difficult decision to donate following the loss of their child, and so happy this treatment was available so Abigail could accept their gift,” Nancy said.

Abigail remained on IVIG for six months following transplant until she started producing sufficient.

The University of Alberta and Stollery doctors came up with the new immunosuppression protocol, using Rituximab, which treats cancer and intravenous immunoglobulin.

Published July 21, 2014, Edmonton Sun