​Pediatric Heart Failure & Transplantation

Lurie Children’s (formerly Children’s Memorial Hospital) performed Illinois’ first pediatric heart transplant in 1988. Our P​ediatric Heart Failure and Heart Transplantation Program, the only program of its kind in the state and the second largest pediatric heart transplant program in the country, is widely known for its abilities to provide lifesaving treatment to infants, children and young adults with severe heart disease.

Performing an average of 15 heart transplants each year, our surgeons transplant young patients who have a wide array of complex and high-risk conditions. Patients’ heart problems range from those present at birth (congenital) to arrhythmia and cardiomyopathy.

Despite the complexity of our patients’ conditions, our patient outcomes are better than national averages for pediatric transplant centers. Specifically, our three-year survival rates for patients and the graft (new heart) are above 90%, compared with the 83% national average. Additionally, our wait list times are much shorter than average. Half of our patients receive a heart within one month, far below the average of 5.6 months.

Care for Families with Cardiomyopathy

The Families with Cardiomyopathy Clinic offers evaluation and treatment for patients with familial cardiomyopathy. In our unique approach, the whole family is seen during the same clinic visit. Examining cardiomyopathy in parents and children at the same time allows us to develop specialized treatment plans that are customized to your family’s genetic needs. In addition, combining the parents’ cardiac visit with their children’s visit allows for fewer trips to the cardiologist, and fewer missed school and work days. We also offer ongoing treatment, second opinions and genetic evaluation.

The clinic is a collaboration between Lurie Children’s Heart Center and the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Medicine. It is the only clinic of its kind in Illinois.

The Lurie Children’s Difference

We provide family-centered care, which means the entire family is involved in the patient’s treatment plan. We use a multidisciplinary team to plan your child’s treatment so that your child gets the most comprehensive care possible, along with many support programs. Our team members are from various healthcare specialties, and they bring a variety of experiences to the table. They will all weigh in on your child’s treatment and use their combined perspectives to create a holistic care plan that focuses on the whole person.

Lurie Children’s pioneers research on how to improve children’s congenital heart disease and cardiomyopathy​ treatment, while also researching the causes of childhood heart disease. Current studies focus on topics such as improving quality of life after a transplant and reducing the risk of organ rejection. The hospital is a founding member of the Pediatric Heart Transplant Study, a group of hospitals that share a research database dedicated to advancing children’s transplant care.

What to Expect

Our heart transplant pr​ogram offers unique treatments, including:

  • ​Heart transplants in nonmatching blood groups (ABO incompatible heart transplants) in infants who are younger than 1 year old
  • Re-transplant in patients who develop transplant coronary artery disease
  • Operation on patients with artificial hearts, mechanical heart pumps or other types of mechanical ventilatory support

The program also offers a bridge or long-term option to transplant using a wide range of ventricular assist devices. 

Your child’s first appointment w​ith the heart transplant team may include:

  • ​A physical exam and a review of their health history
  • A psychosocial (mental and emotional health) assessment
  • Imaging and lab tests as needed
  • A financial needs assessment

After consulting each other, the team will decide if a heart transplant is suitable for your child. If so, we’ll provide support and education through every step of the transplant process and beyond.

Whether your child is a candidate for a transplant or not, we have the advanced resources needed to care for your child. Our 36-bed Regenstein Cardiac Care Unit provides 24-hour intensive care when needed.

Our Specialists

Our heart transplant team has the skill and expertise to operate successfully on high-risk patients whom other centers think cannot receive a heart transplant.

The heart transplant program is led by Carl Backer, MD, surgical director, and Elfriede Pahl, MD, medical director, who have more than 40 years of heart transplant experience combined. Both have been with the program since it began 25 years ago. The program's cardiologists are Katheryn E. Gambetta, MD, and Philip T. Thrush, MD.


Your support is important in helping us continue to make a difference in the lives of patients and families. Lurie Children’s relies on philanthropic funding to enhance its programs, services and research for children. To learn more, please contact the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Foundation at foundation@luriechildrens.org, call 312.227.7500 or make a gift today​.​

Related Stories

​A Healthy Heart for Baby Kaysen

Learn about one of the young, courageous patients treated in the Regenstein CCU after her heart transplant just days after she was born.

Watch the video below, or read about Kaysen's journey.


​Transitioning to Home Care

Almost Home Kids (AHK), now part of the Lurie Children’s family, cares for children with complicated health needs by providing family training, respite care and short-term transitional care in a home-like setting. AHK is staffed with medical professionals and volunteers to make sure every child and their families are prepared for the return home. The Division of Pediatric Heart Failure and Transplantation works closely with Almost Home Kids to make the care transition process as easy as possible.

Learn more about AHK.