Baby Receives World's First Combined Heart and Thymus Transplant at Duke

Doctors are calling the procedure a milestone.  

Easton Sinnamon
Photo: Courtesy of Sinnamon Family

At only 6 months old, Easton Sinnamon of Ramseur, North Carolina made history when he became the first person to receive a combination heart transplant and processed thymus tissue implantation. The procedure was performed in August by the medical team at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina, one of the only hospitals in the world that does cultured thymus transplants.

During the time of his transplant, Easton had already undergone two heart surgeries to treat a congenital heart disease that caused him to only have one heart ventricle instead of two.

As Easton awaited a donor for a heart transplant, doctors ran into an additional complication. Easton had a T-cell deficiency, meaning he lacked critical immune system cells that would prevent his body from attacking a transplanted organ. A cultured thymus tissue transplant would give Easton back that ability, allowing him to successfully host a new heart and possibly eliminate the need for lifelong immune-suppressing medication.

"We could see how much fight he had in him, and so we knew that we wanted to give him the fighting chance to live the best life he could," his mom Kaitlyn Sinnamon told Southern Living. "The only way we could do that was through a transplant."

On August 6, 2021, Easton received his heart transplant. Two weeks later, he received an implant of cultured thymus tissue from his heart donor, becoming the first human in the world to receive the combination of procedures.

In the seven months since his transplant, Kaitlyn said the change in her now one-year-old has been immense.

Easton Sinnamon
Courtesy of Sinnamon Family

"It was a night and day difference. Just having a functioning heart that did what it was supposed to made a world of difference for him," she told Southern Living. "He went from a very sick baby to the happiest baby we have ever seen. And even now that we're home, he's making huge strides forward in his development that are blowing us away."

For the team at Duke University Hospital, who have been working on research for the groundbreaking procedure for years, the implications of Easton's surgery are huge.

"This has the potential to change the face of solid organ transplantation in the future," Duke's chief of pediatric cardiac surgery and a member of the surgical team that performed the landmark procedure, Joseph W. Turek, said in a release. "This concept of tolerance has always been the holy grail in transplantation, and we are now on the doorstep."

WATCH: Young Heart Transplant Recipient Honors Donor with Special Christmas Tree

The Sinnamons say they're thankful for the incredible care they received at Duke and to have their son back.

"Duke will forever be a second home and second family to us," Kaitlyn said.

Congrats to the team at Duke and to baby Easton on making history! We love our healthcare heroes.

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