Medical first in JHB after op saves baby

By Mieke Vlok
22 June 2015

This kind of laser operation has never before been performed successfully in South Africa on a baby weighing less than 10kg.

Johannesburg - A team of doctors in Johannesburg made history when they performed a delicate heart operation on a premature baby, thereby saving her life.

The operation, carried out on a heart the size of a baby's fist with instruments designed for adults, was the last resort after little ­Miané Burger was born with abnormal growths on her heart. She was barely two months old and weighed just 3.3kg when the operation was performed.

“It was a leap of faith. We just had to hope for a positive result," Dr Kenny Govendrageloo, a paediatric cardiologist at the Netcare Sunninghill hospital said.

Miané's mom, Marlene Swart, 27, was 33 weeks pregnant when her doctor found that the baby's heart-rate was too fast. Her heartbeat was 224 beats per minute, compared to a natural heartbeat of 160 beats per minute.

She was immediately delivered during an emergency Ceasarean, to enable doctors to treat her with medicine to stabilise the rhythm of her heart.

A day after her birth, when the medication failed to have the desired effect, she was transferred from ­Trichardt in Mpumalanga to the Sunninghill hospital with its specialised children's cardiology unit.

“Miané gave the doctors grey hairs, because she simply did not respond to any treatment. Her dad [Schalk-Willem Burger, 33] and I have been warned repeatedly she might not make it."

“It is a miracle that Miané is alive and healthy," Swart said.

Swart and Burger are engaged, and live in Kriel in Mpumalanga.

All attempts to restore her heart-rate to normal failed, and the team of four specialists treating her had to make the difficult decision to operate.

“Initially we hoped to stabilise her long enough so that she could pick up at least 2kg before performing the operation, but her condition kept on deteriorating. We could not afford to wait any longer,” ­Govendrageloo said.

There are no doctors in South Africa that specialises in pediatric electrophysiology (uneven heartbeat in children), and the team called on the expertise of a specialist in America to advise them.

Then Miané's parents had to agree to the operation, which was their only hope, but could potentially claim their child's life.

The 2 ½-hour long operation on June 9 was the most difficult en delicate ever performed in South Africa, ­Govendrageloo said.

“It was extremely difficult to remove the growth in her heart by laser. [Everything in] the structure of her heart is much closer to each other than in the case of an adult's heart. This made it so difficult and dangerous to operate on her heart."

The other members of the medical team were dr. Andrew Thornton, a cardiologist specialising in heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), pediatrician Dr Christa Swanepoel and anaesthesist Dr Deane Murfin.

Govendrageloo said Miané's heart rhythm is now, for the first time in her short life, stable.

She has already started picking up weight and he is convinced she will make a full recovery.

“This was a team effort by a team of highly experienced doctors. We are overjoyed at the result," Govendrageloo said.

Swart said she could now finally pick up her baby and shower her with hugs.

“We are eternally grateful for what Dr. Govendrageloo and his team did for Miané. For us, it's a miracle," she said.

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