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How a Nebraska Transplant Program Is Saving Pediatric Heart Patients’ Lives

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Every year, more than 680 children worldwide receive pediatric heart transplants, the standard of care for kids with end-stage heart failure. Transplantation, particularly in children, is a challenging journey for a family, but one Nebraska hospital is equipped to provide the very highest quality of pediatric cardiac care, delivering excellent outcomes and the best possible experience to families from around the Midwest and across the country.

Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals for cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery since 2011. Its Criss Heart Center offers expertise in pediatric heart transplantation, adult congenital heart disease, and the full spectrum of congenital heart conditions.  

Waitlist times for Children’s heart failure and transplant program are significantly shorter than the national average. Plus, the hospital has achieved Aetna Institute of Excellence certification for pediatric congenital heart surgery, which is given to hospitals with premier programs meeting enhanced quality review criteria.

Children’s multi-disciplinary pediatric cardiology transplant team includes Jean Ballweg, M.D., medical director for cardiac transplant, and a team of two other pediatric heart transplant physicians, as well as transplant coordinators, a nurse practitioner, social workers, and a psychologist. These experts collaborate together with extensive knowledge in several different fields to optimize patient diagnosis and treatment, as well as improve outcomes.

“By having our program geographically positioned in the heart of the country, we’re able to serve families from Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Iowa, and all of Nebraska,” says Dr. Ballweg. Children’s central location also means patients from the Midwest don’t have to travel far for ongoing, quality pediatric cardiology care. The program offers a wide network of cardiology outreach clinics in Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota locations to provide patients and families with even easier access.

For families receiving care in Omaha who live more than 60 miles away, the hospital offers the Carolyn Scott Rainbow House, a hospitality house where families can stay while a child is receiving treatment.

“Our patient-centered care, family-centered model has really been a success,” says Dr. Ballweg. “Our investment in the family and our partnership with them sets us apart. They are part of the process from day one.”

A new heart for Jeremiah

One night, toddler Jeremiah Hobson wouldn’t stop crying and had trouble sleeping. His mother, Jalei Hobson, took him to Children’s in Omaha where doctors diagnosed him with an enlarged heart. Later, they put him in a medically induced coma for over a month. He got a heart pump and was put on the list for a heart transplant.

“Ultimately, if he didn’t get a heart transplant, he would have died,” Hobson says.

Five weeks later, she got the call — a heart was available. The next day, Jeremiah got the transplant, a six-hour surgery.

His mother was worried, but she trusted Children’s heart transplant team.

“It was stressful. It was honestly really scary because everything is out of your control,” she says. “As a parent, you try to protect your child and there was nothing I could do to help him.”

Thankfully, the transplant was a success; that was 15 months ago. Now, Jeremiah, who will turn 3 years old this summer, loves the color blue, is learning his ABCs, and enjoys watching “Paw Patrol” on TV.

He spends his days playing with his twin brother, Liam, and his two other brothers. Even though he goes to see his cardiology team at Children’s regularly for checkups and will take medicine for the rest of his life, he’s a regular kid.

“Jeremiah is just full of life, he’s full of energy,” says Hobson. “He doesn’t even know what he’s gone through.”

Dr. Ballweg says Jeremiah’s story is one of many that make her unique work so rewarding. “It’s an honor to share our expertise and walk alongside families through the joys and challenges of the transplant journey.”

Kristen Castillo, [email protected]

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