A five-year-old boy from Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, has become the youngest patient in Africa to receive an artificial heart, the Maboneng Heart Institute said on Wednesday.
Mnotho Mndebele, who weighs only 17kg, is also one of the youngest and smallest patients in the world to have a heart ventricular assist device (HVAD) implanted.
The operation took place a month ago at the institute, which is at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital.
"We fully expect him to be able to go to school and do everything a normal young boy would do," Dr Viljee Jonker, a cardiothoracic surgeon, who led the implantation team, said.
SEE: This is what a mechanical heart looks like
He would have to carry a small external battery pack for his mechanical heart, either on a belt around his waist, or in a small backpack. The batteries will have to be recharged about every eight hours.
“In his case, we opted to use the HVAD as a bridge to a future heart transplant. In reality, it is a lifeline until such time as a matching donor heart can be found for him to undergo a biological heart transplant,” explained Jonker.
Mnotho had been on the heart transplant list, but unfortunately paediatric heart donations are rarely available.
He had been in a critical condition in intensive care for four months before the operation. He suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy. The condition results in the left ventricle of the heart becoming enlarged and weakened and unable to pump blood properly. The cause can often not be determined, Jonker said.
The mechanical heart will help to restore normal blood flow by enabling the left-sided circulation of the heart to operate more effectively.
“It will also enable Mnotho to grow stronger and gain much-needed weight over the next few years, so that he will be healthy enough to undergo a heart transplant when a donor heart finally becomes available,” Jonker explained.
From left: Sister Ina Kok, Mbali Mndebele with her son Mnitho and Sister Bulelwa Ntilashe (image supplied)