Heart transplant baby a 16-pound miracle

Published: February 15, 2006 | 3531st good news item since 2003

Little Xander Dolski waited for his heart transplant in the safest possible place – in his mother’s womb.

When he was born at 4:30 a.m. last Dec. 19, a new heart was ready for him. The donated heart was transplanted into Xander’s chest just eight hours after he was born, a record time for the Stollery Children’s Hospital and for western Canada.

Now a healthy 16-pounder, baby Xander met the media today with his proud parents, Jennifer Martens and Walter Dolski of Winnipeg, and his doctors.

“It was wonderful that Xander, who we knew well in advance (of his birth) had a very lethal heart malformation, was able to get a perfectly normal heart,” said pediatric heart surgeon Dr. David Ross.

The baby is the second that Stollery medical staff have put on a heart transplant wait list before birth.

Avery Power was transplanted two years ago, 12 hours after his birth. With Xander, the transplant team shaved that time to eight hours.

Ross and cardiologist Dr. Yashu Coe say it was necessary to wait a few hours to confirm that their in-utero diagnosis – that Xander’s heart wouldn’t work but the rest of his organs were OK – was correct.

Only a handful of babies around the world get new hearts right after birth, said Ross. A spokesperson for the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto said it’s done at least one successful heart transplant in a newborn baby.

Xander was diagnosed with a malformed heart when his mom was 20 weeks pregnant. He was listed for transplant at 38 weeks, a time at which he could survive outside the womb. A Xander-sized heart became available just days later.

“I got a call in the night to come to the hospital,” said Martens. “At that point it was very scary.”

Martens, 30, was already in Edmonton with her husband. She came to hospital and had her baby by caesarean section. Xander struggled along with his malformed heart for three hours, then was put on a heart-lung machine to keep him alive until the new heart was in place.

“Listing fetuses for transplant is a rare event, and it’s not always been successful,” said Coe.

Having a strong transplant team and an available heart are key, he said. Finding a heart has now become easier, he said, because new research shows a newborn has an undeveloped immune system and can accept a transplanted heart of a different blood type.

Coe said Martens was put through an MRI shortly before the transplant to check that the unborn baby didn’t have other problems besides his heart.

Xander has made a remarkable recovery from his transplant surgery, said Coe.

Martens, Dolski and baby Xander hope to be heading home to Winnipeg by the end of March. He’s currently taking 11 anti-rejection drugs, a number that will drop over the coming months.

“It’s a small price to pay for having him here,” said his proud father.

Published in Kids & Teens, Miracles, Science & Technology
See also: www.canada.com
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