On the surface, Amari Hall appears to be like any other teenager. He enjoys dancing, watching sports, cooking, and chatting with girls. But the 16-year-old from Capitol Heights, Maryland, has lived an extraordinary life, defying medical odds.
Amari was born with a rare heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS). Infants who are born with this syndrome, for unknown reasons, have an underdeveloped or missing left ventricle, which is the heart’s main pumping chamber. This defect causes the right ventricle to take on the extra workload and pump harder. Infants need heart surgery right after they are born and at least two more times as toddlers, still facing a challenge as the extra work takes a toll on the right ventricle.
By the time Amari was 4, he’d had three open heart surgeries to reconstruct and connect the left and right sides of his heart. These surgeries allowed Amari to go on and have a relatively normal childhood. As he entered his teenage years, Amari’s heart increasingly had trouble keeping up with his body’s growth spurts. It began to weaken and fail. A heart transplant was Amari’s only option for survival.
In December 2016, he became an inpatient at University of Maryland Children’s Hospital under the care of pediatric cardiologist Carissa Baker-Smith, MD, MS, MPH, and other members of the UMMC Heart Failure/Transplant team, and he was moved to the top of the waiting list to receive a heart transplant. In March 2017, a donor heart became available.
The transplant surgery was performed by Sunjay Kaushal, MD, PhD, director of pediatric cardiac surgery, and his team. Dr. Kaushal is currently leading research on pediatric patients with HLHS so that one day in the future, children may not have to go through what Amari went through.
Now back at home with a new heart, Amari is happy being a regular teen who can think about doing things with friends — and what he might do when he’s grown up.
CARISSA BAKER-SMITH, MD, MS, MPH, is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Pediatric Cardiologist in the Children’s Heart Program at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.
SUNJAY KAUSHAL, MD, PhD, is Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Director of Pediatric and Adult Congenital Surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center and Co-Director of the Children’s Heart Program at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.
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