Thirteen-year-old Emlynn Singh of Johannesburg is overjoyed to be feeling strong again and to be able to spend the festive season with her family after undergoing a landmark heart transplantation at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital recently.
According to cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Viljee Jonker who led the transplantation team, Emlynn is one of only a fewpaediatric patients in the past decade to have had a heart transplant in South Africa, and is the first to undergo the procedure at the recently launched Maboneng Heart Institute, a children’s transplantation programme that has been established at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital’s Paediatric Cardiac Centre.
Emlynn’s mother, Mrs Penelope Singh, says that her daughter had to wait a year for a matching donor heart to become available and for the operation to take place. “We had become desperately concerned about Emlynn’s wellbeing and constantly feared that her heart would fail during that time,” adds Mrs Singh. “She was completely lacking in energy and could hardly get around without feeling drained and exhausted.
“The difference after Emlynn’s heart transplant is incredible; she is her old chatty, energetic self and is able to see a future for herself once more. She says she wants to climb Table Mountain, do pottery, learn to cook and pursue her longstanding interest in astronomy. We as a family are thankful and thrilled that she can come home, and be with us in time for the holidays,” the mother of four relates.
“We are delighted with the wonderful progress Emlynn has made and feel privileged to have been able to successfully undertake this historic procedure,” adds Dr Jonker. “Emlynn quickly recovered after the transplant and was able to come off the ventilator and sit up the day after the operation was performed. Her health has gone from strength to strength and we have consequently been able to discharge her home.”
Dr Jonker says that the Paediatric Cardiac Centre at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital is the largest such facility in Africa undertaking open heart surgery and repairs. Some 700 children from South Africa and around the African continent are treated at the centre annually.
“It is gratifying to all of us in the paediatric cardiac team to know that, through the new Maboneng Heart Institute, we are now in a position to undertake heart transplantation, as well as artificial heart implantation. Although these procedures are nothing short of lifesaving for our young patients such as Emlynn, they have not been widely available to paediatric heart patients in our country.”
“Transplantation adds a critical new dimension to the treatment options we are able to offer our paediatric patients and we expect the programme to be able to be able to assist up to 30 neonates, infants and children with heart transplantation or mechanical heart implantation every year.”
Mrs Singh thanked the entire transplantation team, and everyone who was involved in making the procedure possible. “I don’t think we could have wished for a more experienced and dedicated medical team to care for Emlynn. We felt like our precious daughter was in the best possible hands throughout this trying time. Emlynn was made to feel at ease and treated like a celebratory by all involved in her care at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital.”
Dr Jonker says that successful paediatric cardiac transplantation is only made possible through an experienced multi-disciplinary team, from the heart transplant coordinators, who facilitate and coordinate the acquisition of a matching donor heart, to the surgical team and its support staff including the nursing staff.
Emlynn’s transplant team consisted of some of South Africa’s foremost heart experts including the renowned Dr Susan Vosloo, a cardiothoracic surgeon who practises at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town; Professor Robin Kinsley, a cardiothoracic surgeon who heads up the Netcare Sunninghill Hospital’s Paediatric Cardiac Centre; Dr Jonker and cardiologist, Dr Janine Meares who practises at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, with assistance of Dr Mignon McCulloch, a paediatric Intensivist from Red Cross Children’s Hospital was responsible for Emlynn’s overall care.
Dr Meares explains that Emlynn had suffered from cardiomyopathy, a chronic disease of the heart muscle. “We do not know what caused it in her case, possibly it came about as a result of a viral infection and, like many children in her situation, a transplant was her only hope, and she is most fortunate that a matching donor heart could be found for her.
“There is a national shortage of organs for heart transplantation, particularly for children, as there are a limited number of paediatric donors available. One of the reasons for this is because families are understandably traumatised at the time of the death of their child and may not wish to consider things like organ donation. This is a tragic situation all around, as a matching donor heart is the last hope for many paediatric patients suffering cardiomyopathy,” observes Dr Meares.
Mrs Singh said that she and her family felt that they could not ever sufficiently express their gratitude to the family of the donor for making such a difficult and painful decision at what must have been a devastating time for them.
“Emlynn would never have survived without this donor heart and has now been given another chance at life. The donor’s family were exceptionally brave, their sacrifice is beyond my comprehension. They have the eternal thanks of myself, my husband and my other three children who adore their sister,” she added.
Renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, Prof Robin Kinsley, whose contribution to the medical profession was recently recognised when he received a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons of South Africa, says that Emlynn’s transplant is an important milestone in the history of South African heart medicine.
“The Paediatric Cardiac Centre at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital has assisted thousands of young patients from around the continent with heart repairs, heart valve replacement and other cardiac procedures,” notes Prof Kinsley. “With the creation of dedicated paediatric heart transplant teams, and new techniques for preserving and protecting the donor heart, however, paediatric heart transplantation has reached new levels of maturity and now offers a viable and lasting solution for young patients suffering cardiomyopathy.”
“Netcare Sunninghill Hospital’s Maboneng Heart Institute has been two years in the planning and has put into place all of the necessary links in the heart transplantation chain to ensure that paediatric transplantation is a highly effective treatment option in these young patients with heart failure.
“The Institute brings together a highly impressive multi-disciplinary team of paediatric cardiac and other paediatric specialists who are using the latest medical technology and techniques in order to give young patients suffering heart failure the best possible chance at life,” points out Prof Kinsley.
Pieter Louw, general manager of Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, congratulated the transplantation team on successfully completing the procedure, and wished Emlynn Singh and her family all the best for the future. “This heart-warming case demonstrates what can be achieved by a team of dedicated paediatric cardiac experts working together as a well oiled unit.”
“The establishment of the Moboneng Heart Institute is an important development for heart medicine in South Africa and offers hope to the children of the continent who have no other viable hope for survival than a heart transplant or mechanical heart implantation,” concludes Louw.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Sunninghill Hospital
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville and Pieter Roussouw
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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