Émile and his new heart: One year later, still looking good

Published: 3 July 2003

A year to the day after he finally received his new heart at The Montreal Children's Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), little Émile Jutras once again met with reporters. Only this time, he was in much better shape.

Now 3, Émile made headlines hundreds of times last year when he spent a total of 126 days on life support at The Children's after a rare viral infection caused his heart to fail. His rare blood type made the wait for a suitable heart a long one. He spent 17 days on ECMO (Extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation), and 109 days on the famous Berlin artificial heart. He was the first in Canada, and the youngest in North America, ever to use the Berlin heart, which was flown in from Germany especially for him. Finally, on July 3, 2002, he received a new heart.

Cardiologist, Dr. Luc Jutras, gave a summary of Émile's progress during his first year post transplant, a high-risk time for rejection, and reported the little boy is doing well.

Émile's parents, Sherley Grondin and Steeve Jutras, noted that, much as the transplant surgery has meant to their family, Émile's success is shared by many . "It belongs to all of Quebec," said Steeve. "We could feel that everyone was with us the whole time. And we're proud of the expertise that made Émile the first Canadian and only the second child in North America to use the Berlin heart. We need to support this expertise."

In a presentation of the highlights of Émile's story, surgeons, Drs. Christo Tchervenkov, Renzo Cecere and Dominique Shum-Tim remarked on the teamwork required to keep the little boy alive. In all, roughly 100 surgeons, physicians, perfusionists, nurses, and other health care professionals were involved in Émile's care.

"The success of Émile's treatment also shows what can be done when we combine the expertise of the McGill University Health Centre's adult and pediatric teams," Dr. Tchervenkov pointed out. "We did something that neither team alone could do. That's the strength of the MUHC." The team built on the experience of the joint adult-pediatric transplant program of the MUHC.

"We now have the largest pool in Canada of pediatric expertise in artificial hearts," noted Dr. Tchervenkov. "We want to develop and consolidate The Children's expertise."

No sooner said than done. At the close of the news conference, Gary Silverman and Simone Leroux, of Au Coeur de la vie/The Heart of Life, announced they would be starting a $1 million fund-raising campaign to support equipment and training for The Children's cardiac team, with the involvement of Émile's family. Au Coeur de la vie/The Heart of Life is a parents' support and fund-raising group associated with The Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation.

Expertise is needed in both artificial hearts and transplants of real hearts, emphasized Dr. Tchervenkov. "Technology like ECMO and the Berlin heart are a bridge to keep patients alive while waiting for a transplant. Organ donations cannot work without bridges and vice-versa."

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