Jaime Bradford

Shortly after Kathy and Dale Bradford adopted Jaime and her sister Jessie from Russia as toddlers in 1997, they learned that Jaime had heart trouble. Doctors discovered an open hole, called patent ductus arteriosis (PDA), in her heart. Two weeks later, little Jaime had surgery to repair the hole, and everything seemed fine.

But by the time she was in seventh grade, Jaime was struggling to breathe normally. She underwent echocardiograms and exercise stress tests and was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. She began taking oral medications to treat her disease but was restricted from most physical activities, including basketball, her favorite sport. By June 2011, Jaime was on intravenous medications. Still, over the next several months, her condition became worse. Her parents were told that her body was shutting down.

On Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, the day after her 17th birthday, Jaime was transferred to Cleveland Clinic.

Doctors started her on a different IV medicine to strengthen her heart and stabilize her lung pressures. “She was alert and putting on her best face,” recalls Kathy. “But she was not in good shape and was getting weaker very fast.”

Jaime’s doctors, Kenneth Zahka, MD, a pediatric cardiologist; Elumalai Appachi, MD, a pediatric critical care physician; and Robert Stewart, MD, a cardiovascular surgeon, were working around the clock to keep Jamie stabilized. Dr. Zahka created a seven-step plan to address Jaime’s needs, with the last step placing her on life support or an ECMO machine, which is similar to a heart-lung bypass machine used for open-heart surgery.

By Monday afternoon, it was clear that Jaime had to be on ECMO. “They opened up the walls between two rooms in the pediatric intensive care unit and made a large surgical area in which to connect her to the ECMO,” says Kathy. “There must have been 30 doctors and nurses and, with all the medical equipment, it was crowded. I went to Jaime, kissed her and told her I loved her.”

The Bradfords prayed together in the waiting area while the care team worked to stabilize Jaime once was she was on the ECMO, says Kathy. “When we were allowed to see her again, I looked at her face, saw her breathing and felt like everything would be OK.”

Jaime’s team of doctors determined that a heart-double lung transplant was her only hope. Kathy and Dale met with the transplant team to learn more about the surgery and what it would mean for Jaime. Led by Marie Budev, DO, MPH, FCCP, the transplant team was able to get Jaime listed nationally. By Tuesday morning, Jaime was No.1 on the transplant list due to her age and otherwise healthy body and because she had no other options.

Her parents moved into a room at the Ronald McDonald House and took turns going to the hospital. “On Tuesday night, Dale said he thought we would get a call that night. I don’t usually remember my dreams, but that night I dreamed the organs came,” says Kathy. “Ten minutes later, we got the call from Dr. Budev telling us they had lungs and a heart for Jaime.

“Dr. Budev advised us to gather our other children, who, in addition to Jessie, include our oldest son Jason, his wife Ashley, Joe, Justin and Jordan and his fiancée Hannah,” says Kathy. “Justin, Jordan and Hannah were all at college in Indiana and they immediately drove the four hours to the hospital. By 9 a.m. we were all together in Jaime’s room as we waited for confirmation that the transplant was a go.”

The transplant surgery began at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 21. Jaime’s surgeon, Gosta Pettersson, MD, PhD, Vice Chair, Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at Cleveland Clinic, told the family to prepare for a long day. At 3 p.m., Dale’s cell phone rang. Dr. Pettersson told him that everything went well, Jaime was doing great and they would be able to see her in a few hours.

“She didn’t really wake up until Sunday evening and didn’t remember anything,” says Kathy. “She regained strength and started rehab and respiratory therapy, walking and even trying to run all through the hospital with her IV pole.”

Jaime came home on Oct. 6, after spending three weeks at Cleveland Clinic.

“I was very surprised when I learned what happened,” says Jaime about her surgery. “I wasn’t scared at all. It was like, oh, it happened. Cool.”

She needs to avoid certain activities due to the risks involved. “She can’t eat sushi. No roller coasters, no pets, no hot tubs, no skydiving, no gardening because of possible molds in the soil,” says her mother. “But her life is now without pulmonary hypertension – her disease is gone.”

Jaime is happy that she can play the guitar again. “I had to stop playing because I would get out of breath when I was strumming,” she says. She is more active than she has been in five years and is now walking two miles a day at a rec center.

“I feel honored to receive the Courage Award,” Jaime says. “To me, courage means humble and brave.”

“We feel really blessed and thankful that God has given Jaime back to us,” adds Kathy. “We are eternally grateful to the donor’s family for their gift of life and for everyone at Cleveland Clinic who provided her life-saving care.”