Heart Health

Updated 04 October 2016

SA girl (13) gets new heart

Maricelle Smith (13), who got an artificial heart on Valentine’s Day this year, received a real heart this week and doctors say the operation was a complete success.

Thirteen year-old Maricelle Smith, who received an artificial heart on Valentine’s Day this year, received a real heart after a donor was found.

On Tuesday morning, Maricelle heard that her dream of a new heart will come true and on Wednesday evening the six-hour-long operation was performed.

According to Dr Willie Koen, the surgeon who performed the operation, the operation went very well.

"It was great news to hear about the new heart," said Koen. "She was frightened that she wouldn't find a heart."

"So we decided to pray and stay positive, and a while later we received the phone call (telling them about the new heart)," said Koen.

'She cried with joy'
The heart was delivered on Wednesday morning by Dr Otto Thaning, medical director of the Organ Donor Foundation. Apparently it comes from a donor in the Eastern Cape.

"I can't believe it! I can't believe it!" said Maricelle, who was born with a heart condition.

According to her mother, Mrs Christel Smith, Maricelle was ecstatic about the news. "She cried with joy."

Smith said that she was not afraid of the heart transplant operation. "I couldn't believe my child was so excited about going into surgery."

Smith said that although Maricelle is still in a critical condition after the operation, she's not worried at all.

"We're very grateful that we found a heart so soon. The doctors are very pleased with the operation, so everything is very positive."

Race against time pays off
By Friday morning Maricelle was awake and, according to Dr Koen, enjoying a bowl of jelly for breakfast.

Koen said that from the time Smith’s health started deteriorating, it had been a race against time to save the young girl’s life.

He added that apart from the obvious success of the operation, the whole situation had been “very special” because of the amount of involvement from the public.

"It was a huge team effort. From the moment news spread about Maricelle needing a heart, we received phone calls from people all over the country offering their assistance in a number of different ways. And within a week she had a new heart and can now start her new life," he said.

According to Koen, Maricelle should be well enough to go home in a week and said that, while it was unlikely she would return to school this term, by next term she would be able to resume her schooling and even continue with her dancing classes again.

However, Dr Koen added that there were still 20 people on the heart transplant waiting list. He sent out an urgent plea to the public to pull together to help give those people the same second chance Maricelle now has.

(Sarietha Engelbrecht and Illana Frantz, Die Burger, February 2008)

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