Newborn celebrates Valentine's Day with new heart

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- Max Bannon's Valentine’s Day gift came early when cardiothoracic surgeons at Phoenix Children’s Hospital delivered the newborn a new heart.

“We haven't even got to hold him yet,” the newborn's father, Jon Bannon, said. “To not have been able to hold him as he's about to go for a transplant was very difficult.”

Max Bannon was diagnosed in utero with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital heart defect in which the left ventricle of the heart is underdeveloped. Even before birth, it was clear he would need a heart transplant.

“There's really nothing that fully prepares you for realizing that, you know, your kid needs a brand new heart when he's so new already,” said Max's mother, Emily Bannon.

Max was put on the list for a new heart at just 2 days old and, two days later, the Bannons got the call.

“When the doctors came to us and said ... 'We got a heart offer and we accepted it,' we were just floored,” Emily Bannon said. “I just started crying immediately. We just couldn't even believe it. I mean, even the doctor was kind of looking at us like 'Wow, this is, this is soon.' "

Dr. John Nigro, Division Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Phoenix Children's Hospital, immediately started mobilizing his transplant team.

“It was a wild 24 hours,” he recalled.

It required flying several hours to an undisclosed location to retrieve the heart, and ensuring it was worthy of transplant and a good match for Max.

“Yeah, it's pretty intense,” Nigro said. “For us, it's like the Super Bowl. ... It's constant intensity and it's a lot of work and it's moment to moment.”

Jon Bannon said he and Emily did not know when Max was going to have the transplant until doctors were taking him into surgery.

That was Feb. 8 and, about a week later, Max celebrated Valentine's Day at Phoenix Children's Hospital with a healthy, strong heart. Nurses said Friday that Max's parents might finally get to hold their son that night.

"That's amazing," Emily Bannon said. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed that that's able to happen. I want to hold him so badly."

The Heart Center at Phoenix Children's Hospital has performed 28 heart transplants since 2010, and doctors hope Max will be able to go home in just a few weeks.