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Baby girl breaks Asia's heart transplant record

By Liu Kun In Wuhan and Wang Xiaoyu | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-14 08:44

Doctors conduct a heart transplant on a 53-day-old girl at the Union Hospital Affiliated to Tongji Medical College at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Feb 26. CHINA DAILY

The life of a 53-day-old girl suffering from a congenital heart defect in Wuhan, Hubei province, has been saved by record-breaking surgery as doctors successfully performed a heart transplant.

The girl, weighing less than 3.9 kilograms, underwent the surgery on Feb 26 and was taken off the ventilator on March 1, an indication that her heart and lung functions had stabilized, according to the Union Hospital Affiliated to Tongji Medical College at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

"The surgery required us to connect five key vessels and insert hundreds of stitches. Each stitch was less than a millimeter or two from the other," said Dong Nianguo, head of the hospital's department of cardiovascular surgery.

The younger the baby, the more challenges an operation presents.

"The requirements were exacting," he said.

For instance, the amount of anesthetic had to be calculated by the milligram.

"When undertaking a cardiopulmonary bypass (a technique in which a machine temporarily takes over the function of the heart and lungs), we didn't even dare blink our eyes. After the operation, we arranged for teams to monitor her around the clock," Dong said.

Fortunately, the girl is doing well so far, and Dong said that she was transferred to a general ward on March 3.

The girl's mother, surnamed Hu, said that she realized her daughter often seemed tired and had trouble feeding about 20 days after her birth.

On Jan 29, she exhibited shortness of breath and was diagnosed as suffering from serious congenital heart disease.

Later, the baby was brought to Dong, who examined her and determined that she was in the terminal stages of heart disease. He decided that the only way to save her was by giving her a new heart.

The family waited for a suitable heart donor for about a month, and it seemed hope was fading until they were notified that the heart from a 7-month-old male donor in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, who had died from brain bleed, was a match for their daughter.

At around 11:45 am on Feb 26, the heart arrived at the hospital in Wuhan. Eight minutes later, it was placed inside the girl's chest as doctors began to carefully connect blood vessels.

The heart was restarted at around 12:15 pm, and the transplant was announced a success about 45 minutes later when the girl was taken off the bypass.

She is the youngest heart transplant patient in Asia, breaking the record set by the Union Hospital in 2019 when a 66-day-old baby was also given a heart transplant.

"It's not our intention to break records. The successful outcome is the result of countless efforts in the past to save lives," Dong said.

Xia Jiahong, vice-president of Union Hospital, said that it has completed 150 heart transplants since 2008, 40 percent of all such surgeries performed nationwide.

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