Stories of service: Kentucky’s first infant heart transplant patient

In 1986, 3-week-old Robbie Cardin got a new heart

Did you know that Norton Children’s Hospital was the nation’s second site to complete an infant heart transplant … or that the hospital was founded on the heels of the deadliest tornado in Louisville’s history? You can learn about the hospital’s 125-year history by visiting “Hope and Healing: Celebrating 125 Years of Norton Children’s Hospital” at the Frazier History Museum.

The 4,200-square-foot exhibit explores how the hospital has served the community in good times and in bad, all the while shaping the evolution and innovation of care for children and families. We’ll explore the history on display at the Frazier in a series called “Stories of service.”

Baby Calvin: Kentucky’s first infant heart transplant patient

In 1986, Robbie Cardin became Kentucky’s first infant heart transplant patient. The complex operation was done at the Children’s Hospital — the second site in the nation to complete an infant heart transplant. Because Robbie’s story gained so much media attention, he was referred to as “Baby Calvin” to protect his family’s privacy.

Want to learn more?

Interested in more history facts displayed in a hands-on exhibit? Visit “Hope and Healing: Celebrating 125 Years of Norton Children’s Hospital” on display at Frazier History Museum through Feb. 4, 2018.

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Robbie had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a condition in which the left side of the heart was too small and weak to pump blood to the body. He underwent open-heart surgery at 2 days old, but it wasn’t enough. He needed a new heart. He got one just 21 days later.

RELATED: Video: Inside Norton Children’s exhibit at the Frazier

ALSO: 125 years of Norton Children’s on display at Frazier History Museum

“I knew that somebody had to die for my child to live. I don’t think you actually think about that child; you try to put it out of your mind,” Robbie’s mother, Patricia, said. “It wasn’t until after Robbie was doing well that I wrote the parents a thank-you letter. I would send them a school picture in a card each year.”

Robbie grew to be a typical 9-year-old boy. He was fearless all the way up until the end, when his body ultimately rejected the heart — a risk with any organ transplant.

Baby Calvin heart transplant 1986

Patricia recalled Robbie asking her where his heart came from. “So I told him about the little boy. I said, ‘You aren’t just living for you — you’re living for him too. You … got a second chance at life that most people never get.’”

The nurse who assisted with Robbie’s transplant, Mary Lynne Shackelford, still works at Norton Children’s Hospital today.

Robbie’s family was invited to the hospital’s 125th birthday celebration in January 2017. They were touched by how many people remembered their special little boy.

About the Frazier History Museum

About the Frazier History Museum: The Frazier History Museum is located at 829 W. Main St. on Louisville’s downtown “Museum Row.” The Frazier is where the world meets Kentucky, bringing history to life for visitors through exhibits, artifacts and live performances every day. The Frazier is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call (502) 753-5663. or visit