Heart transplant saves 14-month-old Sacramento boy

01/24/2013 12:00 AM

01/24/2013 7:39 AM

For four months, little Shaambak Kwetambo lay near death at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, his strawberry sized heart pumping only with the help of sophisticated medical technology.

Then, in a bittersweet turn of events, doctors harvested the healthy heart of a child who had died and transplanted it into the Sacramento boy's chest.

Now Shaambak, who was born healthy in November 2011 and developed an inflammation around his heart when he was 1, has a second chance of growing up and growing old.

Transplants in children so young are relatively uncommon, occurring 75 times or fewer each year in the United States. But they are increasingly successful, with an average survival rate of nearly 80 percent after five years, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Shaambak's mother, Losamo Yenga, has temporarily moved to Palo Alto, enrolling the family's three older children in school there and watching over her youngest son. The boy's father, Bungheni Kwetambo, is commuting between Sacramento, where he works for the state, and Palo Alto, a family spokesman told The Bee.

He said both parents are legal immigrants from the Congo, and that Sacramento's small Congolese community is pitching in to help them deal with their crisis.

The family has medical insurance, but not all of the boy's medical costs and related expenses will be covered, said the spokesman, David Zielke, a teacher at Jesuit High School. Friends are trying to raise $40,000 to fill that gap, he said.

Shaambak was healthy and robust at birth, but in May he developed a high fever that refused to break. Doctors said he had developed myocarditis, a potentially fatal heart inflammation that usually is preceded by a viral infection.

He first received treatment in Sacramento, then was transferred to the University of California, San Francisco, and later to Lucile Packard, Stanford University's children's hospital.

By then, his heart was so weak that doctors installed a newly approved device known as the Berlin pump, which works alongside the patient's natural organ to help it circulate blood through the body.

They found a suitable donor heart for the boy and performed his transplant on Jan. 3. On Wednesday, he was released from the hospital to a nearby residential home for Packard patients, where he will stay for three to six months, said Zielke.

Funds for the family's expenses are being collected by the Children's Organ Transplant Association, 2501 W. COTA Drive, Bloomington, Ind., 47403. Checks or money orders should be made payable to COTA, with "In Honor of Shaambak K" written in the memo line. All money raised will be used solely for the boy's transplant-related expenses.

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