The fourth grader from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, enjoys playing outside and he loves to sing, dance, laugh, and make others laugh—all things he can do following a lifesaving heart transplant at ‘Wyatt’s Hospital,’ a.k.a. UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
Story and videography
UI Health Care Marketing and Communications
Liz Martin

At just 3 months old, Wyatt Rannals received a lifesaving heart transplant at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

“Our first pregnancy was complicated and surprised us with a beautiful daughter with Down syndrome,” Wyatt’s mother, Monica, says, reflecting on why they sought an early ultrasound. “We wanted to be better prepared this time.”

The No. 1 children’s hospital in Iowa

Logo for UI Stead Family Children's Hospital

University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital is Iowa’s only nationally ranked children’s hospital, offering all pediatric subspecialties and caring for kids from all 99 counties in Iowa. We provide world-class pediatric care that families trust—and kids deserve.

Before he was born, an ultrasound revealed a large cystic hygroma—an abnormal growth along his spine—and Wyatt was later diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare congenital defect in which the left side of the heart is severely underdeveloped and incapable of supporting systemic circulation.

“The outlook was grim,” Monica recalls. “The OB said given the size of the hygroma, we would have a less than 5% chance of ever holding our baby boy.”

Their local doctor referred Monica to see a high-risk obstetrician at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

“We were terrified,” she says. “But at the same time, we knew that’s where we needed to be to get the best care. We couldn’t give up because our baby wasn’t giving up. It was reassuring to know we were in good hands.”

A fragile few months

Wyatt was born at 39 weeks via a scheduled cesarean section.

He was immediately taken to the neonatal intensive care unit, but doctors decided his heart was too weak for an initial surgery plan. So, at 5 days old, he underwent pulmonary artery banding surgery to reduce excessive blood flow between his heart and lungs. Wyatt was then listed for a heart transplant.

“We were constantly reminded of just how fragile his little body was,” Monica says. “His health became more fragile by the day.”

Another issue presented itself after Wyatt was born: a hole in his heart also called a patent ductus arteriosus. After an issue with a medication not infusing correctly, the hole began to close, something that in Wyatt’s case could be fatal.

“One of the pediatric cardiologists came in and said, ‘there is a study that shows using a specific medication might open it up,’” Monica says. “That medication saved his life. It was a miracle.”

Then at 2 months old, Wyatt suffered a massive stroke, causing seizures that affected his breathing. At that point, the conversations changed, questioning if Wyatt should remain a heart transplant candidate or if a heart should go to someone else. But his care team was determined.

Lifesaving transplant

On Aug. 3, 2014, they received the call that a heart was available, with Wyatt’s doctor saying it was a perfect match.

“We’re so grateful that his doctors made the case for him,” Monica says. “Everyone was celebrating and everyone was crying. It was so incredible, knowing this was happening for Wyatt.”

Kid Captain Wyatt Rannals stands between two football players, holding their hands

“We are so fortunate to have this incredible hospital so close to us. Without ‘Wyatt’s Hospital,’ we would not have this amazing little boy strong and healthy with us now.”

Monica Rannals
mother of UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital patient Wyatt Rannals

Monica and Jeremy remember watching their son be wheeled away the next day for his lifesaving transplant surgery.

“This incredible gift of life came just in time,” she says. “His heart was failing and slowly dying. It was the expertise of the surgeon, and all involved in that OR, that kept him stable and safe during the surgery. He went to the OR very sick and blue but came back already full of so much more life.”

‘You can do hard things’

Since the transplant, Wyatt has had multiple sets of tubes in his ears, a gastrostomy tube to deliver nutrients directly to his stomach, and has had his tonsils removed. He also has had multiple heart catheterization procedures and has been in physical, occupational, and speech therapies, including participating in UI SPEAKS, a summer program for children who stutter. The stroke left Wyatt with lifelong deficits on his right side. Wyatt was also recently diagnosed with bilateral hearing loss. He now proudly wears hearing aids in both ears. Like everything else, he has taken this new challenge and tackled it head on.         

“He knows things are harder for him,” Monica says. “But we tell him all the time, ‘You can do hard things.’”

Wyatt takes that to heart and recently completed a 5K run, finishing strong, with a smile plastered on his face.

Now 9 and in fourth grade, the Cedar Rapids boy enjoys playing outside and he loves to sing, dance, laugh, and make others laugh. He recently found a love of basketball and absolutely loves all things Hawkeyes.

“He’s a happy, outgoing social butterfly,” Jeremy says. “It’s like he knows the lyrics to every song.”

Heart transplant service

When a heart transplant is necessary, you want your child’s care handled by a team of experts who are well trained and experienced. At University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital you will find a heart transplant team that’s committed to your child’s care before, during, and well after the surgery.

Since the program started, more than 50 children have received heart transplants at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital. We are Iowa’s only comprehensive pediatric heart program and are proud of our excellent outcomes for patients.

Currently, his heart appears to be healthy, but the family knows that can change at any time. They’re hopeful, though, knowing that some patients who received a heart transplant as an infant are still doing great in their 20s.

“We don’t know how much time we will get with Wyatt,” she continues. “We don’t know when his heart will fail. We want to embrace every opportunity for him we can while he is healthy enough and strong enough to enjoy every moment of it.”

His parents talk to Wyatt about the little girl who gave him the ultimate gift of life and note that their son is “very compassionate for others and very giving and accommodating.”

They attribute Wyatt’s health to his care team at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

“There are so many doctors and nurses that we’re still close to,” Jeremy says, with Wyatt calling it “my hospital.”

“It is our second home,” Monica says. “It is our extended family. The children’s hospital is full of experts that have literally held our son’s life in their hands and saved him from death. We are so fortunate to have this incredible hospital so close to us. Without ‘Wyatt’s Hospital,’ we would not have this amazing little boy strong and healthy with us now.”