Brynn McKenna’s dramatic entrance into this world in an unplanned home birth was just the start of an intense first year of life for the Ladner girl. Her parents, Carmen and Mike, knew their daughter had a congenital heart defect at 34 weeks, but doctors couldn’t be sure how serious it was until she was born. Brynn was immediately rushed to BC Women’s Hospital. Within a few hours, her condition deteriorated and the newborn had her first open heart surgery to install a pacemaker.
Then the family was told they would have to relocate to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto to await a heart transplant. In September 2001, Brynn had one of the first ABO mismatch transplants in the world. At six months old, she was just young enough to meet the criteria first established by renown Canadian transplant researcher and cardiologist Dr. Lori West. Dr. West’s work in pioneering ABO-incompatible heart transplantation has had a global impact, making more donor hearts available for infants and greatly improving outcomes. Carmen recalls, “As with all transplants, it was a race against the clock. Brynn was given less than a year to survive so knowing she was a candidate for an ABO mismatch saved her life.”
The course of Brynn’s transplant journey was dramatically improved by another scientific advance – the development of a new drug to control rejection, Tacrolimus. Tacrolimus decreased some of the harsh side effects experienced by patients on the older drugs, steroids such as prednisone.
Almost 14 years later, the Grade 8 student is doing well and thriving at school. She enjoys ballet and jazz, and loves baking for friends and family. “Any research that helps decrease side effects, makes testing less invasive and therefore less risky is hugely important for those who must be on the transplant journey.”