For Kelly Tarantello, born with a single ventricle, congenital heart disease never held her back. At the age of 7, she underwent Fontan surgery, which redirects blood flow through the lungs without being pumped by the heart. She was told she may need a heart transplant in about 20 years, but Tarantello was able to live a fairly normal life. She went away to college and traveled extensively.
When she was 29, her heart began to fail, and she was faced with additional health challenges. Her doctors advised her that her liver was not removing the toxins, and she also needed a liver transplant. In September 2016, she underwent a dual heart-liver transplant at UCLA.
“It’s not easy,” Tarantello says. “Once you get the transplant, that is the beginning of your having to fight, and you have to fight hard.” She kept going through the support and love of her parents and sister and the encouragement of others.
Due to the complexity of the dual transplant, several specialists were involved, and every complication that arose required assembling a team of 15 doctors for consultation. Her mother Delphine Lee, a member of the Ahmanson/UCLA Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center board, stayed by her side every step of the way and recognized the need for a coordinator to arrange group meetings. Seeing the benefit of the group meetings firsthand and the need for a coordinator to set up those meetings led Lee to make a contribution to establish the UCLA Heart and Liver Disease Program. Improved coordination will ensure that the entire team of specialists and the patient’s family are aware of all treatment decisions. The goals of the program are to advance the understanding of why both organs failed, educate cardiologists about possible liver failure in patients who have undergone Fontan surgery and develop a protocol for preventive care.