Doctors were delighted on Sunday after successfully completing surgery on nine-day-old baby Ashleigh Louw, who was born with part of her heart outside her chest.
Surgeons managed to close the internal abdominal wall and put the heart back in her chest, Dr Jerome Loveland, head of paediatric surgery at Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg told journalists. They could however not put the heart back in its normal position as this could trigger cardiac arrest, he said.
"The next 24 hours will be critical, but she remains stable. Time will tell. It can be a rocky boat. If all goes well she could be up and about in a week's time.
"The defect is closed. To the naked eye it [the chest and abdominal wall] looks normal."
More procedures to follow
Loveland said more procedures would be carried out in phases to fix other defects in Ashleigh's heart.
He and his colleague, paediatric surgeon Andrew Grieve, said they were delighted with the outcome of this procedure which involved much critical decision making, some during the operation.
Hospital clinical manager Dr Pungie Lingham dismissed earlier reports that baby Ashleigh was born with
half her ribcage.
"That's not true...The heart is protected by the ribcage which had a slight defect. The defect was now closed with a patch."
Team of 20
Sunday's surgery took about three hours and involved a team of 20 people.
The hospital's acting CEO Johanna More congratulated the team on its "courage and good work".
"It shows that the hospital has capacity and skills to deal with difficult cases... at no time did we ask for help from private hospitals."
One in a million
Ashleigh was born at the Soweto hospital with part of her heart outside her chest, covered only by a thin layer of skin.
This rare condition, known as Pentalogy of Cantrell, is a congenital abnormality that affects about one in a million babies. The condition consists of five associated defects, including structural abnormalities of the heart and defects in the covering of the heart, the diaphragm, sternum (breastbone) and of the anterior abdominal wall.
According to academic literature, she has a 50% chance of survival. Various evaluations and investigations will take place to determine the next step for Ashley. - (Hlengiwe Nhlabathi/Sapa, January 2010)