10-year-old Philasande Dlala from Kwazulu-Natal has been given a new lease on life, after he recently underwent a lifesaving operation to repair his damaged heart. A mechanical heart device, known as a heart ventricular assist device (HVAD), was implanted into his body to help his heart function normally.
Philasande’s parents initially believed he was suffering from a normal bout of the flu, but his symptoms worsened over time and his doctors discovered that he was suffering from a chronic heart disease, known as cardiomyopathy as a result of the viral infection he contracted. This disease affects the heart and its valves, leading to the organ’s failure. His heart was estimated to have only 10% functionality at this time.
A temporary solution was identified, and he had a tandem mechanical heart device implanted at Netcare Milpark Hospital to repair his heart valves. However, his heart had been severely damaged and a more permanent solution was needed, this would come in the form of a heart transplant. While he is on the transplant list, it is rare to find a suitable donor heart for children, so another solution had to be organised.
On Monday, June 13 Philasande underwent a long-term HVAD heart implant at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town. Dr Willie Koen, a cardiac and transplant surgeon, and a founding member and vice-president of the Pan African Society of Cardio-thoracic Surgeons (PASCaTS) led the surgery. Dr Koen was aided by Professor Arnt Fiane from Oslo, Norway, an international expert in artificial heart technology, and cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Geldenhuys.
The implant helps the left ventricle of the heart to operate properly, ultimately restoring normal blood flow to the organ. The surgery was difficult, due to Philasande’s size. A child’s small body and organs means there is little margin for error and extra care has to be taken, but ultimately the surgery, as challenging as it was, was successful. The device is powered by batteries, so an external battery pack will now be kept on him to keep the device working. His family are ecstatic that he is now able to experience a full childhood, play sport again, and reach adulthood where the chances of him getting a donor heart are much higher.
This groundbreaking technology and procedure has come from years of extensive research, made possible through collaboration with local and international experts. Philasande is the first child in Africa to undergo this type of operation. South Africa remains a leader in cardiac surgery, from the first heart transplant in history undertaken by Christaan Barnard in Cape Town, all the way to the mechanical devices now used to repair Philasande’s damaged heart.
The determination of Philasande’s parents to find the correct treatment for their son is commendable, and he is incredibly lucky to live in a country with world class cardiac surgeons. Philasande’s story reminds us how quickly life can change and in order to ensure that in the event of an unforeseen illness you and your family are protected, Medical Aid is a sound investment.