A 2.5-kilogram newborn with a life-threatening heart defect has received the world's first partial heart transplant using living tissue that may never need to be replaced.
Born in North Carolina, baby Owen Munro is now four months old, with two major arteries - the aorta and the pulmonary artery - fused together in a condition called truncus arteriosus. Doctors separated the two arteries and replaced them with "leaky" heart valves shortly after birth using living tissue that would grow with it, avoiding further surgery.
In fused valve repair, dead tissue is usually used, but it must be replaced in extensive surgery up to three times before puberty and every 10 years thereafter. Now, four months after surgery at Duke University in North Carolina, the child is recovering, thriving and going through normal developmental stages. Owen's mother, Tyler Monroe, called the operation a "miracle" and said it saved her son's life.
A stump arterial is usually a death sentence for children without surgery, as the heart works excessively to get nutrients to every corner of the body. It's also rare, with fewer than 1 in 10,000 American babies born with it.
Parents Tyler and Nicholas Munro said their son's diagnosis left them with few options because he was already likely to suffer from heart failure shortly after his birth. They were told that the waiting list for a full transplant was about six months, which their son was unlikely to reach. So the child was involved in an experimental surgery at Duke University, which will use living tissue to separate the fused arteries. About 90 percent of children who have surgery using cadaver tissue - the standard procedure - live for more than 40 years.
The American Heart Association says they will need at least three more operations in their lifetime to replace the tissue because it will grow, and it may also need to be replaced every ten years in adulthood. When Owen was born, doctors found that in addition to the fused arteries, he also had a leaky heart valve, which would also need to be replaced. In the process, Owen received live tissue and valves from another baby's donor heart. The heart had strong valves but was too weak to be used in a full transplant.
After recovering and not showing any ill effects from the surgery, Owen was discharged from the hospital and returned home. Doctors say the baby is now developing normally, according to the British Daily Mail.