x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Nigerian hole-in-the-heart boy undergoes surgery in Abu Dhabi

A 12-year-old Nigerian boy is recovering at home after a risky heart operation in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Twelve-year-old Abdullah Hamza Bashir needed surgery to fix the hole in his heart.

But doctors in his home country of Nigeria did not want to operate on Abdullah because of his age and health condition – he was malnourished and underweight, and too old for paediatric surgery but too young for adult surgery.

With no options for the risky surgery at home, his parents took him to Abu Dhabi for treatment.

Abdullah and his family returned to their home in Abuja last month after the operation by a team of doctors at Burjeel Hospital.

Abdullah’s father, Dr Bashir Hamza, said his son is continuing to recover.

“I think he’s doing much, much better, only occasional complaints of pain,” said Dr Hamza.

Abdullah had a congenital heart disease that affects about eight in every thousand babies, an atrial septal defect (ASD).

An infant still in the womb typically has an opening in the heart’s upper chambers allowing blood to flow around the lungs. This opening usually closes at about the time of birth.

When it does not, doctors refer to the condition as an ASD. The defect can cause high blood pressure in the lungs and less oxygen flow throughout the body – leading to difficulty breathing, frequent respiratory infections and shortness of breath during physical activity.

People with large ASDs are also more at risk of heart failure, heart infections and stroke.

“He was having a serious challenge,” Dr Hamza said about his son.

Activities such as football were becoming harder for Abdullah.

“Occasionally, he was complaining about pains around the chest and the left arm, and he had some infection of the chest, which, after treatment of the infection, he still continued to have complaints,” his father said.

“So we started to go for a much deeper investigation to see the condition of the heart.”

Tests showed the hole in Abdullah’s heart and the family began looking at treatment options.

Dr Hamza had attended medical conferences in the UAE and heard about the hospital, which has a programme to offer surgeries to certain international patients free of charge.

The team operating on Abdullah included chief cardiac surgeon Dr Y A Nazer, cardiologist Dr C G Venkitachalam, and specialist cardiac surgeons Dr Illa Madhusudhana Rao and Dr Tarig Ali Elhassan.

Abdullah was underweight and short for his age, with the large size of the defect and pulmonary hypertension causing further complications in a surgery that is somewhat common for cardiac surgeons.

“It was quite risky,” Dr Rao said.

Dr Rao said the team met with Abdullah before the operation and found he had the typical symptoms.

“He was not able to play with this friends,” said Dr Rao. “We told him, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll go back to playing football and go back to school.’”

The doctors opened Abdullah’s chest and then his heart using a heart-lung bypass machine, which moves blood away from the heart, to reach the defect. They then covered the hole with a patch made from the boy’s own tissue.

Dr Hamza said his son has to make sure not to run too fast or lift anything heavy during his recovery, and that it will take awhile for his chest to completely heal.

But he hopes his son will soon be able to play and run normally.

“I know about somebody who was playing for the Nigerian national team who also had congenital hard disease and also had treatment done, which was also surgical,” said Dr Hamza.

“He continued to play for Nigeria, so I think by the time [Abdullah] reaches adult age, the heart will have been as if it had not been touched surgically.”

lcarroll@thenational.ae