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Berlin Heart and Transplant
Jayden Booker

For the first two months of her son’s life, Shereka Softley was unaware that Jayden’s tiny heart was anything but perfect. So in February of 2012, when he became ill with pneumonia, the Tuscumbia mother assumed doctors would treat him, and life would return to normal. But that was not to be. “They couldn’t figure out why he was breathing so fast,” Softley says.

Jayden was referred the Joseph S. Bruno Pediatric Heart Center at Children’s of Alabama. UAB cardiologist Dr. Bennett Pearce diagnosed Jayden with cardiomyopathy – a disease of the heart muscle in which the heart loses its ability to pump blood effectively.

“They told us surgery was a possibility,” Softley says. “But at the time, he wasn’t that bad.”
The hope was that, with medication and monitoring, Jayden could live a relatively normal life. But during a checkup six months later it became clear that his heart function was rapidly deteriorating. His new diagnosis, a relatively unusual condition called restrictive cardiomyopathy— almost always fatal unless the heart is transplanted— required urgent attention.

“He had very, very stiff left and right ventricles, and tremendous backup of pressure into his lungs,” says his heart surgeon, Dr. James Kirklin. Jayden was so fragile, in fact, that during a heart catheterization procedure his condition was touch-and-go.

Jayden’s heart could not be transplanted until pressure was relieved on his ventricles, which would allow his lungs and arteries to relax, Kirklin says. So he implanted an external heart pump, called a Berlin heart, into the baby’s heart. It was the first time the procedure had been performed at Children’s instead of UAB.

The move, which brings UAB physicians to Children’s, enhances the partnership between the two hospitals, Kirklin says, and is a boon for the pediatric cardiology program and kids with flawed hearts.
“You have the advantage of global expertise in the pediatric care of children,” he says. Not to mention “the enthusiasm of the administration, the excitement and dedication of the nurses and support staff, and the general environment of ‘nothing is too tough to accomplish.’ It’s been an absolute joy.”

On November 17th, three weeks after Kirklin implanted the heart pump, Softley got the call that a donor match for Jayden was available. That same day, he got his new heart.
On December 7th, Jayden celebrated his first birthday. ”His new heart works ‘beautifully,’” and “his prognosis is excellent,” Kirklin says.

“He’s becoming the little boy that he couldn’t have been without the transplant,” his mom says.
“He’s eating good. He’s always talking. He’s playful,” she says. And that’s another reason she’s glad they’re at Children’s for his post-operative stay. “There are all kinds of activities, and clowns and stuff come in.”

“You couldn’t ask for a better hospital,” Softley says.
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