Case results in protocol change with worldwide implications
One of Gift of Life Michigan’s smallest donors – baby Jade Townsend, who lived for just 55 minutes in 2021 – saved the life of another infant this spring.
But perhaps her most compelling and lasting legacy is an important protocol change. The tissue processor that accepted her heart valve has lifted all weight requirements for babies to donate heart valves. That’s because Gift of Life Michigan – on behalf of Jade and her parents – asked LeMaitre Vascular in Massachusetts to consider taking Jade’s valve despite her birth weight of just 3 pounds, 7 ounces.
LeMaitre had required babies to weigh at least 6.5 pounds to donate.
The company lifted its restriction in July after learning Jade’s tiny valve was successfully transplanted and the baby is thriving.
“Through Baby Jade, we’ve learned that babies all over the world need exceedingly small heart valves,” said Michael Dionne, director of donor services for LeMaitre. “We love her for this. All it takes is one family, one donor to change so much.”
Babies globally will benefit
He said the surgeon who transplanted Jade’s valve told him very small babies die around the world because there are no valves small enough for them.
“He was very emotional when I told him we have lifted the weight restriction for pediatric donors,” Michael said.
Jade’s valve was transplanted into an infant from Bristol, England, more than 3,600 miles from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Gift of Life tissue procurement specialists surgically recovered the valve after asking LeMaitre to relax its weight rule for her.
“We got the call, we heard the story, and it resonated with me,” Michael said. “I have kids, so I thought there was no reason not to give Jade’s parents this opportunity to help others. I’m so happy I did.
So are Jade’s parents, Allison and Nick Townsend of Au Gres in northern Michigan.
They learned at 26 weeks gestation that Jade had an extra gene and would not survive long after her birth if she made it that far. Their little girl had Trisomy 18, a rare condition afflicting one in 5,000 live births.
“We had our moments of sadness, grief and even anger, but then we started to think, ‘How can we make something good come from this?’” Allison said. “How can we make her life meaningful, knowing that she might only live a couple of hours?’”
With that special request to LeMaitre, Jade’s legacy began to take shape.
Jade’s legacy of giving
Allison gave birth to Jade by C-section at Ascension St. Joseph Hospital in Tawas City. Three members of Gift of Life staff were there to support Nick and Allison and to fulfill their wishes for Jade.
Not only did she donate her heart valves to save the lives of other babies, her placenta is also helping heal patients with traumatic injuries, and Jade’s brain went to research Trisomy 18, Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions.
Recent news that one heart valve saved another baby’s life and changed a family forever is everything the Townsends hoped for.
“We knew it would take a very unique situation. This means so much to us in many different ways,” Allison said. “It gives us comfort knowing that Jade continues to give back to this world.”
Michael, from LeMaitre, said he needed Jade’s valve to be successfully transplanted before he could permanently eliminate the company’s weight requirement. “When I heard the news, I was just so happy. I’ve said it 100 times, but that’s the truth.”
Dorrie Dils, Gift of Life’s president and CEO, said her staff could have decided not to ask LeMaitre, and the tissue partner could have turned down Gift of Life’s request. Instead, everyone thought about Allison, Nick, Jade and her potential recipients.
“The right thing happened,” she said. “Now one family is comforted knowing their daughter saved a life and another family is living with overwhelming gratitude for Jade’s ultimate gift.”