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A first-of-its kind, a heart-thymus transplant, is a success

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Easton Sinnamon was born with a heart problem, and he was still an infant when he received a first-of-its-kind transplant. He received a new heart and a little more. Dr. Joseph Turek led the team that performed it.

JOSEPH TUREK: He had - was born with a single ventricle heart, meaning he only had, like, one half of his heart. And we had tried to do some operations to get him through, but he wasn't doing very well. And he kept getting these infections.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Turek is chief of pediatric heart surgery at Duke University, and he says the solution was to give the baby a new heart and also new thymus tissue.

INSKEEP: The thymus is the gland that helps produce T cells, which can also complicate organ transplants. That's why little Easton got thymus tissue from the same donor as the heart. Easton spent his first seven months in the hospital. His mother is Kaitlyn Sinnamon.

KAITLYN SINNAMON: It was a real challenge. We have a 4-year-old daughter at home. So trying to juggle taking care of her and being there at the hospital for him was pretty difficult.

INSKEEP: Dr. Turek says that Easton's procedure addresses an obstacle in organ transplants - the body rejecting a new organ.

TUREK: Rejection over time leads to the organs failing. Right now, in the modern day, a heart transplant, on average, will last about 10 to 15 years.

MARTIN: By transplanting both heart and thymus tissue from a single donor, the heart may last longer. And Easton's mom is optimistic.

SINNAMON: We want families who are going through similar circumstances as we are - to let them know that there is hope.

MARTIN: And Easton reached another milestone recently - his first birthday.

SINNAMON: We invited really close friends and family. We even had some of the respiratory therapists from Duke that we became really close to. Easton was excited just to see so many people. And, you know, it was all about him, so he just soaked it all up.

MARTIN: Happy birthday, Easton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.