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For Immediate Release:
September 30, 2015
Media Contact:
Tania Leets
Jennifer Smith


Genetic test offered at UHealth could determine her future

A 6-month-old South Florida infant is heading home with her grateful parents after receiving a life-saving heart transplant and spending half of her young life in the hospital. Paolo Rusconi, M.D., and Eliot R. Rosenkranz, M.D., pediatric cardiac specialists at UHealth - the University of Miami Health System treated Eliana Mendez at Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, giving her a chance at life. The research of the doctors could guide future treatment for Eliana’s family.

Eliana Mendez first became ill in June with nausea and lethargy. Parents Alejandra and Abdiel Mendez took Eliana for a check-up, and her pediatrician prescribed medication. However, later that night the Mendezes brought Eliana to the Emergency Department of their local hospital in Palm Beach County when her symptoms worsened. That decision likely saved their infant daughter’s life.

Doctors diagnosed Eliana with the life-threatening heart condition dilated cardiomyopathy, which causes the chambers of the heart to enlarge and weaken, leading to heart failure. Eliana was airlifted to Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center—also home to the Children’s Heart Center, the only accredited pediatric heart failure program in Florida, where UHealth – the University of Miami Health System pediatric cardiologists, Paolo Rusconi, M.D., and Eliot R. Rosenkranz, M.D., were waiting. After a thorough evaluation, physicians determined Eliana needed a heart transplant and she was placed on the wait list for a donor heart.

“She was always smiling, the happiest patient in the ICU,” said Abdiel. “You would have never known she was waiting on a heart transplant.”

Two months later a donor was found, and on Aug. 21, Dr. Rosenkranz and a team from the Miami Transplant Institute transplanted a new heart into Eliana. However, Eliana’s new heart did not work sufficiently after the transplant and she was supported for approximately five days by Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), a form of mechanical heart.

“Our program is the most experienced in the region with transplant and ECMO,” said Dr. Rosenkranz. “Eliana’s good outcome is in no small part a reflection of the UHealth team’s experience in this type of advanced heart care at Jackson.”

Dr. Rusconi also recommended genetic testing – results are still pending – to determine if Eliana’s cardiomyopathy was familial, the inherited form of the disease. “As one of only 11 sites in the nation participating in the Pediatric Cardiomyopathy Genes Study, a research project focusing on very sophisticated genetic testing superior to what is currently commercially available to determine the cause of cardiomyopathy, the UHealth team at Jackson provided a level of care unparalleled in South Florida,” said Dr. Rusconi. “Because of our participation in this national study, and our ongoing efforts to identify the drivers of each patient’s disease, the Mendez family will know shortly whether other family members might currently be at risk of cardiomyopathy, and they’ll learn whether Eliana carries a gene that could be passed on to her children someday.”

“I am relieved to know Eliana has a healthy heart and that her nutrition is guaranteed thanks to the G-tube that was inserted in her stomach,” said Alejandra. “But above all I’m happy my family is getting its life back – no more indefinite stays at the hospital with the uncertainty of knowing when Eliana’s heart will show up or if it will show up in time for her to live.”

Eliana will go home after spending the past three months – half of her short life – in the hospital’s care. Her parents will leave knowing that in a short time they’ll have a conclusive answer as to whether Eliana has familial cardiomyopathy, an inherited form of the disease that could be shared by other family members, including themselves, Eliana’s future siblings and her own children.


Eliana Mendez, Holtz Children’s patient
Alejandra & Abdiel Mendez, parents
Paolo Rusconi, M.D., UHealth pediatric heart transplant and cardiac failure
Eliot R. Rosenkranz, M.D., UHealth pediatric cardiac surgeon


Physicians and the Mendez family will describe Eliana’s recovery.

When: September 30, 2015, 10:00 a.m.

Holtz Children’s Hospital, Room 6015
1611 NW 12th Ave.
Miami, FL 33136

Editor's Note:

Notes:  Media can park outside of Ryder Trauma Center. Meet a representative from Jackson media relations outside of Holtz Children’s Hospital at 9:45 a.m.

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Jackson Health System
1611 N.W. 12th Avenue Miami, FL 33136