Newswise — LOS ANGELES -- (June 13, 2022) -- While many 21-year-olds celebrate their coming of age in bars and nightclubs, Andrew Solis is celebrating freedom by finally going home—equipped with a new heart and liver—after nearly eight months at Cedars-Sinai. 

“Before my heart and liver transplant, I was stuck in the hospital, feeling weak, anxious and stressed,” said Solis, a Long Beach resident who was born with a heart condition. “Now, with my new organs, I feel great—like a new person. I feel really grateful and blessed for the wonderful team that has been behind me.”

That team has been behind Solis since he was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare condition in which only half of the heart develops. He had blue-colored skin, lips and nails at birth—a telltale sign of the condition.

Solis underwent four open-heart surgeries by age 3, and by age 18 had undergone several additional catheter-based heart procedures—many of which were performed by Evan Zahn, MD, co-director of the Guerin Family Congenital Heart Program at Cedars-Sinai.

In recent years, Solis had been feeling well. So well that last summer, Rose Tompkins, MD, associate director of the Adult Congenital Heart Program in the Smidt Heart Institute, gave him a clean bill of health at his routine checkup.

Less than two months later, Solis took a sudden turn for the worse. He became increasingly short of breath and was told by Tompkins to come directly to the Cedars-Sinai Emergency Department.

“By the time he arrived, his heart was no longer pumping, and blood clots had developed within his heart muscle,” Tompkins said. The team knew almost immediately that Solis’ only hope for survival would be a heart transplant.

So Zahn, Tompkins and the rest of their team collaborated with a host of Cedars-Sinai medical professionals to keep Solis alive until transplant day, despite his rapidly deteriorating health.

“I’ve been caring for Andrew since he was a boy, watching his health progressively deteriorate to the point of advanced heart failure and an urgent need for new organs,” said Zahn, also director of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology in Guerin Children’s.

Zahn explained that congenital heart patients treated at Cedars-Sinai receive care from the same providers throughout their lives, never aging out of the health system like they would at a children’s hospital.

“This continuum of care, available at few other institutions, played in Andrew’s favor,” said Zahn. “We never had to pause to catch up on his medical history. Everyone involved had been caring for him for years and even decades.”

A lifetime of surgeries and procedures kept Solis alive, but they also contributed to scarring and fibrosis of his heart muscle and surrounding organs, including his liver. Solis developed a condition called passive hepatic congestion, which impairs the liver’s ability to drain unnecessary fluids. This meant he would also need a liver transplant.

With his health quickly declining, Solis’ medical team navigated one health hurdle after another. After several months, his condition continued to worsen despite the medical team exhausting all medical options. Given concern that he would not survive while waiting for a donor, he had to undergo a risky surgical procedure where doctors implanted a temporary pump inside his heart, hoping to buy him more time.   

Six months into his stay at Cedars-Sinai, Solis was discouraged, not knowing when, or if, a donor heart and liver would become available. But the news everyone was waiting for came on Easter Sunday—an especially meaningful day for Solis and his Catholic family.

“Receiving the call on Easter Sunday was a very big moment, something so special,” said Solis. “The news was astonishing to me; it was my chance at a second life.”

On transplant day, Solis was in the operating room for more than 12 hours. 

Cardiothoracic surgeon Dominic Emerson, MD, associate surgical director of Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support in the Department of Cardiac Surgery, led the heart transplant. Because of the complexity of Solis’ anatomy, Richard Kim, MD, surgical director of the Guerin Family Congenital Heart Program, performed the case alongside Emerson—further highlighting the team approach and continuum of care—all congenital heart patients receive at Cedars-Sinai.

Liver surgeons Kambiz Kosari, MD, associate professor of Surgery, and Todd Brennan, MD, director of Pancreas Transplant, led Solis’ liver transplant, in coordination with Irene Kim, MD, director of the Comprehensive Transplant Center and Nicholas Nissen, MD, surgical director of Liver Transplantation.

“The dedication and collaboration between the thoracic and abdominal transplant teams to get this highly complex young patient through this transplant was astounding,” said Kim. “There was continuous, frequent discussion and checking in between teams prior to the transplant, and everyone committed to getting this patient successfully transplanted.”

For Tompkins, who oversaw all elements of Solis’ care and grew especially close to him and his family during his eight months in the hospital, transplant day was indescribable.

“Andrew and his family made endless sacrifices and endured more obstacles than we can quantify,” said Tompkins. “Making it alive to transplant day, and then surviving such complex surgeries, was nothing short of miraculous.”

Now home and continuing his path toward recovery, Solis is eager to enjoy simple moments—like eating out and exercising—with his family and friends. According to Tompkins, Solis should be able to eat, exercise and achieve so much more—because congenital heart patients who survive transplant are known to have better outcomes and live long, fulfilling lives.

“Andrew is the bravest, strongest and most courageous patient I’ve ever met—and I have no doubt he will thrive with his new organs and lease on life,” said Tompkins.  

Read more from the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Congenital Heart Patients Thrive at Cedars-Sinai