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Cape doctors beaming after successful heart transplant on a minor, the first in 13 years

Perusia Muigwira, 13, a few days after her heart transplant. She aspires to be a doctor when she grows up. Picture: Supplied.

Perusia Muigwira, 13, a few days after her heart transplant. She aspires to be a doctor when she grows up. Picture: Supplied.

Published Apr 21, 2021

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A team of doctors and surgeons from the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH) and Groote Schuur Hospital are beaming after a successful operation – the first heart transplant on a minor in 13 years.

The recipient, 13-year-old Parusia Muhigirwa, received her new lease on life in February this year and has since been recuperating at a comfortable pace at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

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According to the hospital, she was suffering from heart failure before her surgery. She had been diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a version of heart failure where the heart muscle becomes incredibly weak, floppy, and big, mostly due to a viral infection attacking the heart muscle.

RCWMCH paediatric cardiologist Liesl Zühlke said there are many reasons why children of all ages develop end-stage heart failure. The most common reason was due to failure of the heart’s muscle, cardiomyopathy, of which there are several types where the heart muscle is simply no longer able to function.

“Some children may be born with abnormal heart structures, congenital heart disease, and although we can operate on many of these lesions, some are no longer able to be repaired or develop complications and when there is additional muscle pump failure, sometimes the only option is also to offer a heart transplant,” said Zühlke.

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Mahigwira will have to attend a series of follow-up sessions that entail regular, and monthly check-ups including, blood tests, an array of assessments to monitor her immuno-suppression.

RCWMCH paediatric transplantation service head Mignon McCulloch said: “Immuno-suppression is a challenge, especially with children and in the time of Covid-19, however, it’s a fine line that we need to balance to ensure that we give the patient the best chances.”

RCWMCH acting chief executive Anita Parbhoo said: “We are excited to be able to reinvigorate our heart transplantation service and believe that many more young patients like Parusia, and their families, can benefit from it. Muhigirwa aspires to be a doctor, I believe she was inspired by her own surgery and wishes to do the same for other young people.”

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