Parusia receives heart transplant at Red Cross

Parusia Muhigirwa a few days after the heart-transplant surgery

Parusia Muhigirwa,13, is doing well after receiving a life-changing heart transplant at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in February.

A team from Red Cross and Groote Schuur Hospital has given Parusia a new lease on life with the heart transplant, the first one in 13 years at Red Cross.

The hospital’s head paediatric cardiologist, Professor Liesl Zühlke, says there are many reasons why children of all ages develop end-stage heart failure, when their hearts are no longer able to support normal everyday functioning.

“The most common reason is due to failure of the heart’s muscle, called a cardiomyopathy of which there are several types where the heart muscle is simply no longer able to function,” she says.

Professor Zühlke says that Parusia had a version called dilated cardiomyopathy. “This is where the heart muscle became incredibly weak, floppy and big. This is most often due to a viral infection attacking the heart muscle but very often we do not know the cause,” she says.

Professor Zühlke says some children may be born with abnormal heart structures, congenital heart disease. “Although we are able to 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.”

“It is a long road to travel prior to getting a transplant even after the decision that it is the next option to offer,” says Professor Zühlke.

She says Red Cross spends a long time preparing children with these conditions for a heart transplant and it is a careful and considered joint decision between family, child and team.

“Offering a cardiac transplant service for children builds up the entire team and ensures that we are able to offer children with heart failure a new lease on life and has great impact on the entire service,” she says.

The head of the paediatric transplantation service at the hospital, Professor Mignon McCulloch, says immunosuppression is a challenge, especially with children and in the time of Covid-19. “It’s a fine line that we need to balance to ensure that we give the patient the best chances.”

He adds: “The follow-up process entails regular, monthly, check-ups including echo-cardiograms, blood tests, an array of assessments and careful monitoring of the immunosuppression.”

Acting CEO of the Children’s Hospital, Dr Anita Parbhoo, says the hospital is excited to be able to re-invigorate its heart transplantation service and believe that many more young patients like Parusia, and their families, can benefit from it.

Young Parusia says she wants to give back by becoming a doctor when she grows up.

For more information on organ donation, visit www.odf.org.za