She left with a new heart.

Every December, a familiar email arrives in the inbox of Taylor’s heart surgeon. It’s from “Aunt Ellen,” featuring the latest Christmas photo of Taylor and her cousins. Through the years, these photos have captured Taylor’s transformation from thoughtful child to determined teen to, today, 29-year-old music teacher, beloved by her elementary schoolers. 

Dennis Mello, MD, who leads Connecticut Children’s division of Cardiac Surgery, knows as well as anyone what these snapshots represent. They go back to when Taylor was 6 years old, and needed two hospitals, working hand in hand, to save her. That was the year she arrived at Connecticut Children’s, gravely ill. She left with a new heart.

“It seemed like a miracle”

Taylor’s parents, Diane and Brian, still get emotional when they think back on the winter of 2001. Taylor had had a rough few months, struggling with fatigue and stomach issues. After a “just in case” trip to their local emergency room, they got an answer that stunned everyone, including their regular pediatrician: Taylor was in heart failure.

“It was terrifying. Suddenly, we didn’t know if she would live to see the next day,” says Diane. “But we always had hope.”

Diane and Brian put Taylor’s name on the waiting list for a heart transplant, and asked for prayers from friends and family. Meanwhile, Connecticut Children’s Critical Care team admitted Taylor to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), where she was intubated and sedated to keep her stable — similar to what many of us think of as an induced coma.

As each day passed without news of a donor, her heart and health declined. Numb with fear, Diane and Brian leaned on friends and family who came to sit by Taylor’s bed, filling her hospital room with balloons and toys.

Then, they got the news. At midnight on Easter weekend, a heart became available.

“It seemed like a miracle,” says Diane.

When a Connecticut Children’s patient needs a heart transplant, they receive exceptional care from our Pediatric Care Alliance partner, Hartford HealthCare. The friendship between that program’s director, Jonathan Hammond, MD, and Dr. Mello goes back to their early careers — when Dr. Mello was a med student, and Dr. Hammond was his chief resident. The two heart surgeons have collaborated on numerous cases over the years. This one was especially delicate, because it was Hartford Hospital’s first pediatric heart transplant.

A tunnel connects the two hospitals; Taylor was wheeled through it for the surgery, into a Hartford Hospital operating room where Dr. Hammond and Dr. Mello were waiting. After, she was wheeled back. She woke in the familiarity of Connecticut Children’s. Her parents, and a roomful of balloons and stuffed animals, were there to greet her.

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“Look at this view!”

Predictably, Taylor’s memories of that time at Connecticut Children’s are completely different from her parents’. For their part, Diane and Brian remember just how dire the situation was, even after a successful surgery. They knew Taylor was still critically ill. They knew there was a chance her body would reject her new heart. They knew they were afraid to leave her side.

Taylor, meanwhile, knew she had a ton of fun visitors; a care team she adored; and a great room on a high floor.

“I remember being like, ‘Wow, look at this view!’” Taylor says. 

She remembers cracking up as her night nurse, Ed, serenaded her about eating worms. She remembers racing a bike down the hallways with her physical therapist, and playing dress-up with her occupational therapist. She remembers the obstacle course they guided her through to regain her strength and motor skills.

“I loved it. It was like a playground for me,” she says.

“They were so good to her there, and they were so good to us,” says Diane. “And it was such a team effort. Everyone worked together to get her better.”

Diane and Brian knew they could lean on this same team throughout Taylor’s future too. Connecticut Children’s care starts even before birth — from high-risk pregnancies to the tiniest babies through, of course, all ages of kids and young adults. But it doesn’t end there. Many of its experts, like Dr. Mello, also care for adults who were born with heart conditions. In fact, Connecticut Children’s has the state’s first accredited center for Adult Congenital Heart Disease, which follows patients like Taylor into adulthood.

Adulthood — something she’d now have the chance to embrace.

It took 77 days from start to finish, but finally, Taylor was well enough to go home. In March, she’d arrived at Connecticut Children’s with just moments to spare. In May, she left with the rest of her life ahead of her.

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Every milestone is significant. [My son] graduated, we cried. He got his first job, we cried. When I saw the picture from Taylor’s wedding, I thought about [my son]. She was able to grow up and fall in love and lead this life that’s very meaningful. As her care team, that’s amazing.

Dennis Mello, MD,
Division Head, Cardiovascular Surgery | Co-Director, Cardiovascular Institute at Connecticut Children's

"Imagine that"


Last spring, a new photo of Taylor arrived in Dr. Mello’s inbox. This time, it was of Taylor and her high school sweetheart, Joe, on their wedding day. They married

 along the Connecticut River, down by the Goodspeed Opera House.

For Dr. Mello, it was both personally and professionally meaningful. He has a son about Taylor’s age who was also born with a serious heart condition, and needed major surgery at a young age.

“Every milestone is significant. He graduated, we cried. He got his first job, we cried,” Dr. Mello says. “When I saw the picture from Taylor’s wedding, I thought about that. She was able to grow up and fall in love and lead this life that’s very meaningful. As her care team, that’s amazing.”

For Diane and Brian, it was beyond imagination.

“We didn’t know if Taylor would live through elementary school or middle school or high school,” says Diane. “We didn’t know if she would get to be in college or get married. Every wedding is special, but to us, this wedding was beyond special. We were in awe.”

“I got to walk Taylor down the aisle,” says Brian. “Imagine that.”

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