Baby Born With Heart Outside Chest Is 'Beyond a Miracle'

After 3 surgeries, Vanellope Hope Wilkins, said to be first UK baby to survive condition, is 'doing well'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 13, 2017 11:05 AM CST
She Had a Heart. The Problem: It Was Outside Her Chest
Naomi Findlay and Dean Wilkins look at their daughter, Vanellope Hope Wilkins, at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester on Monday.   (Ben Birchall/PA via AP)

Nine weeks into her pregnancy, Naomi Findlay was told "termination" was the only option. The fetus in her womb was growing a heart—but in a rare case of ectopia cordis, it was outside of the body, as was a portion of the stomach, giving the fetus less than a 10% chance of survival, reports the Guardian. Three weeks after giving birth a month prematurely, however, Findlay, 31, and Dean Wilkins, 43, are the proud parents of a baby girl believed to be the first in the UK to survive such a condition, joining a few others in the US, per the New York Times. Less than an hour after she was delivered via caesarean section on Nov. 22, Vanellope Hope Wilkins went into her first of three surgeries at Leicester's Glenfield Hospital to relocate her heart into her chest. Doctors say she's now doing well, though she remains on a ventilation machine.

Getting to this point wasn't easy. After the first surgery, doctors had to wait for Vanellope's chest to grow to make room for the heart. With doctors assisting, the heart eventually moved into a cavity through gravity. Doctors then created a mesh to protect the heart, as Vanellope was born without ribs or a sternum, and in the final surgery, they covered the hole with skin taken from under the infant's arms. "In a way her strength gave me a strength to keep going," Findlay tells the BBC. "No one believed she was going to make it except us," adds Wilkins. "It's beyond a miracle." A pediatric cardiologist says Vanellope "has proved very resilient." The main focus now is to prevent infection, but "in the future we may be able to put in some internal bony protection for her heart, perhaps using 3D printing or something organic that would grow with her." (Heart surgery saved an unborn child in Canada.)

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