Groundbreaking operation for premature baby with hole in her breastbone

By Joanie Bergh
21 April 2016

Little Leah-Marie van der Riet was born in October last year, with a hole in her breastbone that could have killed her -- but after an incredible four-hour operation, the baby girl has a fighting chance.

The operation Leah-Marie underwent on Monday 18 April, a South African first, was a huge success. Her parents, LeSueur and Manda, are relieved the worst is over and are looking forward to being able to take their baby daughter home.

With a hole in her sternum (breastbone), the six month old's organs were in danger of serious injury and pressure applied to that area could even have been fatal.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Susan Vosloo, who led the team that performed the operation at Christiaan Barnard Hospital in Cape Town, lengthened her top three ribs by 5 mm and pulled them together to close the hole. The remaining gap of 1 cm was covered with mesh.

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“Leah’s condition is stable but she’s still in the intensive care unit,” LeSueur told YOU of his daughter, who was born one month early. “She’s still hooked up to breathing apparatus but we believe she’ll be able to breathe unassisted within a day.”

As soon as she was born, Le Sueur and Manda immediately realised something all was not well with their daughter. As she inhaled, it looked like a tiny balloon was inflating in Leah-Marie's chest, which would deflate when she breathed out.

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Leah-Marie receives physiotherapy twice a day to help reduce the pain when she coughs. Manda said at this stage they’re not allowed to visit her often because she can’t be stimulated. She gets excited when she hears her parents’ voices but any movement could hurt her.

The little girl will have to recuperate for a few more days in intensive care before she can be moved to a general ward.

After that, Le Sueur and Manda hope they'll be able to take their baby home.

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