Redefining the Possible

Adaya Robinson didn’t need a heart transplant, thanks to a novel approach to treating her rare heart disease. | Photo: Annie O'Neill

Born with a rare and complex congenital heart disease, Adaya Robinson spent most of the first year of her life in the hospital. The right side of her heart was underdeveloped, which meant the heart muscle wasn’t getting enough blood to function properly. Typically, a heart transplant would have been her only option — but Hani Najm, MD, had a better and bolder idea. He devised a novel three-phase surgical strategy to reroute the infant patient’s blood flow. 

In 2023, Adaya was able to come home for the first time. When she’s older, she’ll need a Fontan procedure to further improve her circulation. For now, she’s healthy and hitting all her milestones. 

“Cleveland Clinic is fertile soil for innovative thinkers,” says Dr. Najm, Chair of Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery. (Find out more about Dr. Najm here.)

Cleveland Clinic is built on innovation — sophisticated thinkers who think about how to solve important problems. More and more, we depend on philanthropic support to achieve our mission and to take risks without financial constraints.

Dr. Bradley Marino

On display in a glass case in his office are models of various hearts, 3D-printed in advance to help him prepare for surgeries. He also uses virtual reality models, donning goggles that effectively allow him to tour a patient’s heart. 

“These replicas let me plan exactly what I’m going to do,” Dr. Najm says. “With these surgeries, there’s no time to waste. You can’t be figuring out what you’re going to do in the operating room.”

Remarkable stories such as Adaya’s may not be common in the world at large, yet they’re not uncommon at Cleveland Clinic. 

Three years ago, Dr. Najm was part of a team led by Darrell Cass, MD, that performed surgery in utero to remove a life-threatening tumor attached to the heart of a 26-week-old fetus. Ten weeks later, Rylan Drinnon was born, weighing  6 pounds, 4 ounces. His father, Dave Drinnon, says: “Hopefully when he’s older, he looks back on this and thinks, ‘I can do anything.’”

“We’re doing things here that no one has done before,” says Bradley Marino, MD, MBA, Chair of the Department of Heart, Vascular and Thoracic at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. He holds the Ronald and Helen Ross Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Cardiology.

“We have great courage, but we’re also extremely diligent when it comes to understanding the mechanisms of disease and offering possible interventions in any given situation,” Dr. Marino says. “It requires a balance, and we take a collaborative approach with families so they can make a fully informed decision about what they want for their child.”

Cleveland Clinic is committed to providing a continuum of cardiac care for all patients, from the youngest to the oldest.

“We’ve created a transition program so our pediatric patients can continue to receive the best care as adults,” Dr. Marino says. “We’re reshaping the paradigm for people with congenital heart conditions, regardless of age.” ♥

In 2021, Cleveland Clinic surgeons removed a life-threatening tumor attached to the heart of a baby in the womb.