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Duke Health performs world's first partial heart transplant on newborn

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | September 15, 2022
Cardiology Operating Room
Doctors at Duke Health have performed what is believed to be the first partial heart transplant on a newborn.
Surgeons at Duke Health, in North Carolina, have performed what is believed to be the world’s first partial heart transplant on a newborn baby.

The medical team fused living arteries and valves from a freshly donated heart onto the one belonging to Owen Monroe, a five-pound baby born with truncus arteriosus, a condition in which the two main arteries of the heart are fused together. He also had a leaky valve on his one vessel, making it unlikely he could wait for a full transplant.

Most children like Owen would normally receive two preserved arteries with valves from a cadaver. Because the implant is not living, it does not grow with the child and has to be replaced with larger ones as the patient grows up, forcing them to undergo multiple open-heart procedures that limit their life expectancy.

The living tissue and valves from Owen’s transplant will grow as he does, according to Dr. Joseph Turek, Duke’s chief of pediatric cardiac surgery, who led the landmark surgery. He says it “potentially solves the problem of a growing valve. If we can eliminate the need for multiple open-heart surgeries every time a child outgrows an old valve, we could be extending the life of that child by potentially decades or more.”

The procedure was performed on April 22, 2022. The donor heart had strong valves but was not able to be used as a full transplant due to the condition of the muscle.

Since the operation, Owen has shown remarkable growth and improvement, according to Duke. The team hopes that it will pave the way for a similar approach to treat common valve replacements in children via a one-time surgery.

“What’s particularly remarkable about this procedure, is that not only is this innovation something that can extend the lives of children, but it makes use of a donated heart that would otherwise not be transplantable,” said Dr. Michael Carboni, an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine and Owen’s pediatric transplant cardiologist.

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