Baby youngest to have heart transplant at Texas Children's Hospital

Baby's mother diagnosed with breast cancer 8 weeks into pregnancy

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - Little Juliana and mother Riki Graves look like any typical mother and sleeping baby going for a checkup at the doctor's office.

"Looks like she's doing really well," said Dr. Aamir Jeewa at Texas Children's Hospital.

Juliana was in an adorable pink tutu, bow and booties, but if you looked closely, there was a tiny tube in her nose.

Earlier this year, just weeks after her birth, Juliana became the youngest baby ever to have a heart transplant at Texas Children's Hospital.

But she's not the only fighter in the family: Her mother is fighting breast cancer. Graves was diagnosed eight weeks into her pregnancy.

"It is rare. However, we have lots of experience treating patients that are pregnant and are diagnosed with breast cancer," said Dr. Mariana Chavez Macgregor, with MD Anderson Cancer Center. "For the patient, it's a very happy moment of her life, but it's shadowed by a new diagnosis of breast cancer."

At 20 weeks came the news of Juliana's heart problems.

"I told the doctor I have breast cancer, and I'm pregnant. I can't have a baby with a heart defect also," said Graves. "I didn't even worry about my breast cancer anymore. All your thoughts being a mother go straight to the baby."

But Graves had to juggle the job of both mom and patient. She would come to MD Anderson Cancer Center and then walk down the street to Texas Children's Hospital to get the baby checked out.

"We have to balance the safety of the patient, the safety of the baby. There are some patients like her that did not receive chemotherapy. She's going to receive her treatment after, now that the baby is born," said Chavez Macgregor.

Graves and doctors at Texas Children's hoped surgery would be the best option for Juliana, but right after the birth came horrible news.

"She wasn't a candidate for surgery," said Jeewa.

Juliana went on a heart transplant list, and within three weeks Graves got the call -- a heart was on its way.

"It's impossible to predict when a new heart becomes available but those children who are the sickest are the highest priority (and) can wait up to three to six months, so this was thankfully quite early in the wait list time for her," said Jeewa.

After a long stay in the hospital, Juliana is now back home and acting pretty much like a normal baby.

"Juliana is doing great right now. She's been gaining weight, she's been tolerating all her feeds well, she's getting bigger and stronger every day," said Jeewa.

"She's my miracle baby, she is," said Graves.

However, Graves' breast cancer fight isn't over yet.

"Her prognosis is very good. At the point she's completed her radiation therapy, we're going to work on endocrine therapy with a drug called tamoxifen," said Chavez Macgregor. "So hopefully, little by little her life will go back to normal."

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