Northern California hospital partnership saves local girl’s life

Harper Bruckenstein’s heart led her to UC Davis Children’s Hospital


Although the baby was a few weeks early, Jenneca Bruckenstein’s delivery at Elizabeth’s Hospital in Red Bluff was fairly routine, just like with her other child, Khaleesi. But just days later, newborn daughter Harper Bruckenstein went into heart failure. 

“I was expecting to be discharged,” Bruckenstein said. “Then out of nowhere, Harper wasn’t well. We never anticipated this would happen.” 

The baby was transferred to Mercy Medical Center in Redding where it was determined Harper needed to be rushed to UC Davis Children’s Hospital. It was her only hope. 

“They thought she might pass away,” Bruckenstein said. “We were so scared.” 

What the Bruckensteins didn’t know is that the partnership between Mercy Redding and UC Davis meant Harper was headed to the UC Davis Pediatric Heart Center, which offers the most sophisticated, diagnostic, interventional and surgical expertise. 

“They quickly knew what was wrong and diagnosed Harper with truncas arteriosis,” Bruckenstein said.  “She needed immediate surgery.” 

Truncus arteriosis is a complex cardiac defect that must be repaired early in life. The surgery involves separation of the arteries that feed the lungs from the single artery leaving the heart. A hole is made in the right ventricle and the ventricular septal defect (VSD) is closed through this hole and a new pathway to the lungs is created. Often a hole between the upper pumping chambers is also closed. 

The Bruckenstein family: Harper, Casey, Jenneca and big sister, Khaleesi.

UC Davis pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon Gary Raff performed the procedure to close Harper's VSD. It worked. 

“Harper was quite small at the time of surgery, but I think the contribution of her parents was critical to our ability to help her recover and thrive,” said Raff. “Despite the magnitude of the surgery and another child to care for, Harper’s family did a great job working as part of the care team in an effort to get her home.” 

The feeling of appreciation is mutual. Bruckenstein glows when she talks about Raff. 

“Dr. Raff is our hero. He was phenomenal,” Bruckenstein said. “When you ask what UC Davis Children’s Hospital means to me, it’s simple. It means Harper’s life.” 

Harper Bruckenstein is now a spunky toddler who her family calls Hops. 

“Our little girl has come SO far. Hops is thriving. Happy, salty and sweet … and everything in between,” Bruckenstein quipped. “She’s the exact opposite of her sister and I love it! Experiencing joy and precious moments with both my sweet daughters is what I live for. I can't wait for Dr. Raff to see Harper and Khaleesi now.”

UC Davis Children's Hospital is the Sacramento region's only nationally ranked, comprehensive hospital providing care for infants, children, adolescents and young adults with primary, subspecialty and critical care. It includes the Central Valley's only pediatric emergency department and level I pediatric trauma center, which offers the highest level of care for its critically ill patients, as well as a level I children’s surgery center. The 129-bed children's hospital includes the state-of-the-art 49-bed neonatal and 24-bed pediatric intensive care and pediatric cardiac intensive care units. For more information, visit