WATCH: Baby born with heart outside her body saved by operation
A rare medical intervention has saved the life of a three-week-old girl who was born with her heart outside her body.
Vanellope Hope was born in central England late last month. Parents Naomi Findlay, 31, and Dean Wilkins, 43, had discovered when Ms Findlay was nine weeks pregnant that their baby had ectopia cordis but hoped that she could be treated at birth.
It is only the third time the procedure has been carried out anywhere in the world. The condition is only seen in a few cases seen for every million births, and it usually results in still births. In Vanellope’s case, she was born without a breastbone.
When her parents were told about the diagnosis, Ms Findlay was distraught. “I burst into tears. The condition came with so many problems,” she said.
“All the way through it, it was ‘the chances of survival are next to none, the only option is to terminate, we can offer counselling’, and things like that,” Ms Findlay added.
“If [death] was to happen naturally, then so be it.”
But the chances for Vanellope – who is named after a character from the film Wreck It Ralph – improved when consultant paediatric cardiologist Dr Frances Bu’Lock told the couple that scans at 13 and 16 weeks showed she was “essentially normal”.
A further test revealed there were no chromosomal abnormalities and the couple pressed on with their desire to give birth to Vanellope. A medical team at the hospital began to draw up a plan for her birth and put Ms Findlay through a barrage of scans on her unborn child.
Dr Bu’Lock said: “We came together as a team of fetal medicine doctors, obstetricians, anaesthetists, cardiac and abdominal surgeons and cardiologists to review all of the available information and discuss how best to plan for a delivery, surgery and subsequent care.
“It was decided that delivery by caesarean section would be best to reduce the risks of infection, risks of trauma or squashing of the heart during delivery, and that surgery to provide some sort of covering to the heart would be needed immediately after baby was delivered.”
When Ms Findlay reached her 36th week of pregnancy, the decision was taken to conduct the caesarean, and 9.50am on November 22 Vanellope was born.
Around 50 doctors, midwives and nurses sprang into action, initially placing her body into a sterile plastic bag. Within an hour of her birth, a ring was inserted to widen the 2.5cm hole in Vanellope’s chest, and a cover was placed over her body.
During the next nine days, her heart returned to its natural position, becoming fully inside her chest by December 1, when a Gore-Tex membrane was placed over the organ to stop skin growing on to it.
Vanellope is still hooked up to a ventilation machine, but doctors say that her chances for long-term survival are improving every day.
Ms Findlay, who also has a six-year-old son, explained why she name her daughter after the character from the Disney film: “Vanellope in the film is so stubborn and she turns into a princess at the end so it was so fitting.”