Heart transplant recipient celebrates historic 30-year anniversary


Wednesday, Oct. 8, represents a milestone in the history of pediatric heart transplantation. That’s because Lizzy Craze, 32, hasn’t needed replacement of the donor heart during the 30 years it’s been beating in her chest. She is the only heart transplant recipient in America, and likely the world, to survive 30 years with the same donor heart she received as a toddler.

“In 1984, I was only expected to survive with my new heart for five to 10 years,” said Lizzy, whose family lost three children to familial dilated cardiomyopathy and whose surviving older brother also had a heart transplant.

1984 was a landmark year for pediatric heart transplantation. Though transplants had been performed in older children, that year marked the first series of small-child (under the age of 5) heart transplants at a handful of transplant centers, such as Stanford and Columbia. It was groundbreaking territory.

“No one was sure back then if a donor heart would even grow if you put it in such a young child,” said cardiologist Daniel Bernstein, MD, who guided Lizzy’s care throughout childhood at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and the Heart Transplant program.

The surgery, which some considered experimental, came at a dramatic moment. Lizzy was a few months shy of her third birthday when her heart was failing fast. A transplant was her only option.

She could not have been in better hands. The trailblazing surgery was led by the late Norman Shumway, MD, the father of American heart transplantation, who performed the first successful adult heart transplant in the United States in 1968 at Stanford. On Shumway’s team was Philip Oyer, MD, who is still active as a professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Lizzy was the youngest successful heart transplant recipient in America at the time of her transplant.

But many doctors assumed her new heart would need replacing at some point. Transplanted hearts can fail due to organ rejection or other complications; the other small children who received donor hearts in 1984 either died or eventually required another heart transplant.

Bernstein said he and his team “had to do a lot of never-done-before tricks to manage Lizzy’s transplant. We even borrowed some techniques the kidney transplant doctors used. For example, we treated Lizzy every other day with steroids so she would grow. We also used the immunosuppressant cyclosporine, which had just been introduced. Later, as we learned more, we discovered that if you get past 10 years, your chance of living a long time with your originally transplanted heart increases. The body’s immune system adapts to the new heart better.” (Lizzy needed a kidney transplant as a teenager due to the side effects of anti-rejection medicines.)

It hasn’t hurt that Lizzy has been a model patient. “I know the importance of taking my medications and being physically active,” she said. True that – her boyfriend and now husband, Jeff, proposed while they were backpacking in Yosemite last year, and on Oct. 5 she completed the Rock’n’Roll Half-Marathon in San Jose.

“Her story is truly inspiring,” said Mary Burge, LCSW, a social worker at Stanford since 1980. Burge was there to help support parents Susan and Charles Craze when Lizzy had her transplant, and also in 1983 when Lizzy’s 16-year-old brother had his heart transplant. Burge still works with patients at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. “When meeting new families who are devastated to learn their child will die without a transplant, they’re encouraged by the positive way Lizzy lives her life. And when I share photos of Lizzy, they see that’s she’s not shy about showing her scar. The pride and joy with which Lizzy lives her life provides tremendous hope for others.”

But living 30 years with the originally transplanted heart? No one could have predicted the milestone. “I think this case is a monument to what we still don’t understand in the field of biology,” said Bernstein.

Through it all, Lizzy and her family have never forgotten the power of organ donation. “We are always mindful that, during a time of unbelievable grief, the family of a stranger gave me the gift of life,” said Lizzy. “We are forever thankful.”

Discover more about our Heart Transplant or call (650) 721-2598.

View an NBC Bay Area feature on Lizzy’s anniversary


5 Responses to “Heart transplant recipient celebrates historic 30-year anniversary”

  1. Shifra

    Thank you so much sharing this inspiring article! So amazing to see someone thriving after so many years and even with dealing with all the medical stuff that goes along with it. My so is 5 years old and currently listed for a heart transplant and I appreciate reading this story. Thank you Lizzy!

  2. Peggy

    Our 10-year old grandson, Carter, has just been placed on the heart transplant list and we are overwhelmed. Success stories like Lizzy’s give us hope of a happy and successful life for our grandson.
    Thanksomuch !

  3. Laura Simons

    Your article made me cry with joy! My daughter, Sarah, received a new heart at LSPCH in October 1999 when she was just 11. She is now 31 and living life to the fullest. She will celebrate her 20th heart day on the 16th. Both Dr. Bernstein and Mary Burge were instrumental in Sarsh’s Case. We have also been very blessed to have met the donor family. We are still in touch with them.

  4. Jackie Roberts

    It gives me hope hearing your story. I am a 57 year old mom to 3 sons all born with a disorder which destroyed their heart . My oldest had a heart transplant February 26, 2012. My middle son had a heart transplant on February 6th 2018 . My youngest son is on meds to slow progression and also as a pacemaker and defibrillator . He will eventually be put on the transplant list when his heart is no longer able to do its job .
    I pray everyday that they will get to live a long life. Hearing your story makes me think they can maybe do just that. Thank you for sharing.


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