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Dilated cardiomyopathy
Ben Golden

Ben Golden’s story is about patience and planning, a big dream and perfect timing – and how all these things came together at Children’s of Alabama to save Ben’s life.

When Ben was born on July 13, 2012, he appeared to be perfectly healthy. But four weeks later, he was having problems breathing. His mother, Laura, took him to the emergency department where doctors discovered an enlarged heart and a deadly diagnosis: dilated cardiomyopathy. Within days, he was placed on the heart transplant waiting list.

While some infants with cardiomyopathy may go years without the need for a heart transplant, Ben was not so fortunate. “His condition grew progressively worse after his diagnosis,” says Dr. James K. Kirklin, professor and director of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Children’s. “He needed strong intravenous medications to keep his heart going, and he was in grave danger of dying before we could locate an appropriate donor.”

Thirty-nine days later came word that a heart available in California might be a perfect match for Ben. It would prove to be a monumental day not only for Ben and his family, but also for Dr. Kirklin and the UAB and Children’s of Alabama cardiovascular services team.

During the time Ben was waiting for a new heart, a dream 30 years in the making was coming to fruition with the opening of the Pediatric Cardiovascular Service in the new Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children – just steps away from UAB’s cardiac doctors and connected via crosswalks.

“My father, John Kirklin, who really began cardiac surgery in Birmingham 30 years ago, had wanted to move the pediatric service to Children’s, but at that time it was considered to be a duplication of services,” says Dr. Kirklin. “So it was a special thrill for me to be a major player in making a single platform of care between Children’s and UAB available to better serve children like Ben.”

Ben’s surgery was not without challenges – it took six hours just to fly the donor heart in from California. “The combination of these factors: a donor from a great distance, the surgery occurring so soon after the move to Children’s, the heart immediately functioning perfectly and the child experiencing no immunologic rejection or infection problems – all of that together really was quite miraculous,” says Dr. Kirklin.

“The nurses, physicians and intensivists at Children’s managed this as if they had been doing it every year for the last 10 years,” he adds. “It was absolutely spectacular.”

Ben’s mother could not agree more strongly. “Ben now has a chance to grow up, and he would not have had that without Children’s and everything that they’ve done,” she says. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! You all have been fantastic!”
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