Joseph W. Turek portrait

Joseph W. Turek

Duke’s chief of pediatric cardiac surgery, Dr. Joseph W. Turek, has built his career on repairing the defective or damaged hearts of the very youngest patients, while continually looking for ways to make their care better.

Turek and his surgical team have performed two first-in-the-world heart transplant surgeries.

The first was an August 2021 heart transplant for an infant that added pieces of lab-grown thymus tissue from the same donor to help the baby’s immune system avoid organ rejection. Easton Sinnamon, who was just six months old at the time of the operation, is thriving now and the success of his case has the potential to open a world of improved solid organ transplantation beyond pediatric hearts.

Turek followed that triumph by performing the world’s first partial heart transplant in 2022,  a procedure in which a baby with an inoperable heart valve defect was transplanted with living valves and major vessels from a donor, rather than receiving an entirely new heart. The partial transplant requires fewer antirejection drugs and more than a year later, the valves and vessels are growing normally with little Owen Monroe.

This innovation opens the possibility of ‘domino transplants,’ in which multiple patients might be treated from a single organ donation. Turek recently completed one.

“You could potentially double the number of hearts that are used for the benefit of children with heart disease,” Turek said. “Of all the hearts that are donated, roughly half meet the criteria to go on to be used for full transplant, but we believe there’s an equal number of hearts that could be used for valves.”

Turek’s innovations should greatly improve outcomes and expand the availability of transplants for the babies who need it most.