13-month-old Baby Survives Difficult Heart Condition in UK and Goes Home

by Gopalan on Aug 26 2007 12:54 PM

In a medical miracle of sorts, a 13-month-old from Northamptonshire, UK, has survived a heart condition and has returned home with his parents.

Five months ago his mother had agreed that his life-support machine should be switched off.

Jack Vellam was perhaps the youngest patient to stay on an artificial heart for 120 days, while he recovered from myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.

His mother, Danielle Hastings, 18, said he suddenly fell ill in March and turned grey. His family took him to hospital in their home town, but he suffered a heart attack. He was then transferred to another hospital in Newcastle, where he remained in intensive care for several days.

As his life slipped away, doctors suggested the family consider switching off the life-support machine.

Hastings and Jack's father, Terry Vellam, 21, an apprentice plumber, considered the suggestion, and at first she agreed as she did not want her eight-month-old baby to suffer.

"I said I didn't want him to suffer any more than he already had," she said.

"They wanted to have our decision by 8pm but then the doctors came back and said there was another option, a transplant."

But the parents were warned that the operation was not without drawbacks, and Jack could suffer from strokes or blood clots. Hastings said: "It was my and Terry's decision and he wanted to have the transplant, but I was still not sure because there were more cons than pros. In the end I said 'let's give him that chance'."

The family gathered for what they believed would be Jack's last day, and he was christened in hospital.

Hastings said: "I'm glad we made that decision."

Doctors placed Jack on an ECMO machine to keep his heart and lungs working. An Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine is similar to a heart-lung by pass machine used for open heart surgery. Extra corporeal means ‘outside the body’. A membrane oxygenator is a piece of equipment which delivers oxygen into the child’s blood.

They discovered that he was suffering from inflammation of the heart muscle and, as about one in three children recover on their own, decided to wait to see if Jack could pull through without a transplant. He was put on a Berlin Heart, an artificial heart that operated outside his body, pumping his blood through four tubes inserted with 60 stitches each into his chest. The heart remained in place for 120 days before it was removed 15 days ago.

Hastings was all praise for the staff at the Freeman hospital, a NHS unit. “This is a wonderful, supportive community," she said gratified.

She said she was looking forward to doing ordinary things with Jack, such as taking him swimming or watching him learn to walk.

"It's still dawning on me that we are going home," she said.

"I want other parents to know that there is hope for their children if they are ill."

Richard Kirk, a consultant paediatric cardiologist, paid tribute to the 100-strong team who worked to save Jack's life.

"This is the best of days for us," said Kirk. "This is what we work for."