A tiny baby has become the youngest ever in the UK to be fitted with an artificial “Berlin heart”.
Tiarna Middleton, who is just 15 days old, was born with a rare congenital heart condition.
As a result she was initially kept alive by an Ecmo machine which took over from her heart and was placed on the urgent heart transplant list.
But due to a lack of donors, doctors at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle carried out a painstaking nine-hour operation to fit the device which operates outside the body.
Surgeon Massimo Griselli, who fitted Tiarna with the artificial heart, now hopes it can keep her alive until a donor heart becomes available.
Tiarna, from Rowlands Gill in Gateshead, was delivered by caesarean section at the hospital weighing 5lb 8oz and doctors soon realised that her coronary arteries had failed to form properly.
The operation came after her parents, Sharney Gray, 22, and Gary Middleton, 25, made a desperate appeal for more people to join the organ donor register.
Other children have previously been kept alive for more than 200 days on the specialist devices, which work by helping the right ventricle of the heart to pump blood to the lungs and the left ventricle to pump blood to the body.
Consultant cardiology surgeon Massimo Griselli led the pain-staking procedure to connect it to Tiarna’s own heart.
He said: “The Berlin device will offer her long-term support but there were complications because she is such a small baby.
“Although she is improving, she is in the intensive care unit and is not yet fully stable. We had to leave her chest open and will close it in the next 24-48 hours once she is stronger. She is both the youngest and the smallest ever in terms of weight to have a Berlin heart device fitted.”
Colleague Dr Richard Kirk said it was difficult to find a heart donor for tiny babies.
He said: “Infants younger than two months in this country are not allowed to be donors, though we hope that may soon change.
“So the organs needed tend to come from abroad. We only have four to five hours to get them to the UK for them to remain viable for transplant .
“That means we are limited to Europe in the search. We allowed to use a tiny French baby’s heart but not one from this country.”
Jacki Newby, northern team manager for Organ Donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said many more people were needed for the NHS Organ Donor Register.
Join the organ donor register online by going to organdonation.nhs.uk, call 0300 123 23 23 or text SAVE to 62323.