Boy, 20 Months, Has Two Heart Transplants in Four Days

It’s a first for the Mayo Clinic and good news for 20-month-old Kobe Giesen.

The Mayo Clinic transplanted a second heart into Kobe within a week of performing the first transplant, which failed, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reported Wednesday.

"We were very, very lucky," Joseph Dearani, Kobe’s transplant surgeon, told the newspaper. "And sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good."

Kobe, of Fargo, N.D., was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy at three months. Doctors are unsure why, but his heart became enlarged and weak. He needed a transplant.

By June, Kobe’s parents, Shane and Karmen, were told their son would die unless he was put on a heart-lung machine to pump his blood.

Soon, the baby had a small stroke.

On Father’s Day, doctors told the Giesens they had a heart for Kobe, which doctors say is rare because often there are not available hearts small enough to fit a child of Kobe’s size.

There was one problem, Dearani told Kobe’s parents: The heart was coming from a child in Texas, who had died from child abuse. The heart had been damaged by resuscitation efforts. There was a 50 percent chance it might not work.

"We asked him, 'What would you do if you were in our shoes?'" Karmen Giesen said. "He said he would take it. We really didn't have a choice right then."

Right after the surgery, it was apparent the heart would not work. If Kobe could survive a while longer on the heart-lung machine, the heart would recover, but doctors said he wouldn’t live long enough.

Dearani immediately put Kobe back on the transplant list.

"We had nothing to lose by relisting," he said. "If it comes up, great. If not, we know we tried."

They anticipated at least a 45-day wait.

But on the morning of Wednesday, June 18, the good news came. Another child’s heart had become available.

Now Kobe is off the heart-lung machine and doing great.

"That's where we are today," Karmen Giesen said. "We have a ways to go. But at least we are going in the right direction.”

And although she never will meet the family of the child whose heart is beating in her son’s chest, she constantly thinks of them.

"I thank God that they did decide to give that gift," she said. "I won't know what it's like to be on the other side. But I know it wasn't an easy choice."

Click here to read more from the Star Tribune and to see a picture of Kobe.