RCH turns tragedies into gifts of life with advanced techniques and technology

Heart transplant recipients Tom and Aradhya are striding into the future after receiving life-changing second chances.

Neither are old enough to yet understand the story of their “zipper” scars and the heartbreaking decisions by donor families to save them.

Aradhya Rathod, 21 months. Picture: Mark Stewart

But there’s no doubt two-year-old Tom and 21-month-old Aradhya are seizing the chance to be free from the tangle of cords and tubes that had kept them alive.

Catie Eccleston has nicknamed her youngest “Tiger Tom” for his tenacity to keep fighting against slim odds.

“This is the most progress we’ve seen in his whole life. He can walk unassisted and up and down off the ground,” Mrs Eccleston said.

“I can’t describe how wonderful this it. I just want him to be healthy and happy, and for our family to be together again.

“We want to make the most out of life to honour the gift he has been given.”

Tom’s heart started failing at just 10 days old and his family moved state four times chasing the cardiac care he needed.

He, like little Aradhya, suffered from a virus that weakened their hearts, quickly rendering them unable to adequately pump blood to all organs.

Aradhya has also started to walk on her own in the past week, giving mum Smital Rathod a visual reminder of her daughter’s growing strength.

“I knew a transplant meant that another child would lose their life, so I never prayed that she got a new heart. I always prayed she got better,” she said.

Tiger Tom, 2. Picture: Mark Stewart

“It’s a brave and kind decision when you have lost your own little child, that you can think about giving your organs to someone else to survive.”

The toddlers’ stories are just two life-saving examples among the 175 heart transplants performed at the Royal Children’s Hospital since 1988.

The National Paediatric Heart Transplant Centre this week celebrated 30 years of mixing their medical skills with the selfless gifts of donor families, to save children from heart failure.

Associate Professor Robert Weintraub said technology had allowed them to increase the number of children eligible for transplant and keep them alive longer on the transplant list.

“Heart transplantation allows sick children to have another chance of life,” he said. “To see a child who was previously unwell and unable to participate in everyday activities grow into a strong and active person, is what motivates every person on the team.”

Words by Brigid O’Connell, photos by Mark Stewart (Herald Sun)

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