How the Miracle of Mitochondrial Transplant Saved the Life of an Infant

No one would believe after seeing 6-year-old, Avery, in her dance class that a complex heart defect had almost cut her life short. An experimental procedure called ‘mitochondrial transplant’ not only saved the life of the little girl but also offered a glimmer of hope to terminal patients of stroke, cardiac arrest, brain damage, and more.

Identifying the Scope

Just shortly after birth, Avery had to undergo open-heart surgery, which left much of her heart damaged. After spending two months in the hospital, she was discharged to go home. But a few weeks later, Avery’s mom Jess Blias rushed her back as the little girl had turned blue. Doctors quickly found that her heart was pumping only at half capacity. While the team of doctors were preparing little Avery for a heart transplant surgery, they noticed that during the brief disconnected moments from ECMO, the blood-pumping machine, her heart was functioning better. They realized her heart might be salvageable. Then the cardiovascular surgeon of the team and departmental head at Boston Children’s Hospital, Sitaram Emani, approached Blias with an offer to perform the experimental procedure of mitochondrial transplant to save the baby.

The Procedure

This procedure involved collecting the patient’s mitochondria and injecting them into the damaged tissue. Mitochondria are nothing but tiny oval structures, which provide the cells the energy to function properly. If the transplant was successful, the healthy mitochondria would get absorbed into the damaged cells, helping them heal from the inside. This was the last chance for infant Avery, and fortunately, the result was incredible! Her heart started pumping stronger each day, and she was able to go home shortly after. Though she still needs regular cardiological checkups and treatments, little Avery is as lively as ever. Avery’s case is one of the first in human trials of mitochondrial transplant and promises positive results.