Joy all-round as 10-year old Ulundi boy benefits from intense, KZN first-of-its-kind heart operation at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital

02 August 2023

Siyabonga Mthethwa (10), from Mahlabathini area in uLundi, has been given a second chance at life, following a successful and unique ten-hour heart operation at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, which is a first of its kind in a public hospital in KwaZulu-Natal.

According to his aunt, Nokuphila Mthethwa, Siyabonga could not play fully with his peers or participate in strenuous physical activity. "He would go out and play for about ten minutes or so and come back complaining about chest pains. We could also feel his heart through his ribs, to indicate that it was pumping normally. He would catch flu easily and lose weight very fast. This was until we sent him to Nkonjeni Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a problem in his heart, and then referred to Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital," said Nokuphila.

Nokuphila says the family knew Siyabonga had a serious congenital heart problem, and that there was a risk of losing him. "We had no choice but to allow the procedure to take place. We prayed that it becomes successful. By God's will, all went well and he has been granted a second chance at life. He is fine now and very jovial, and looking forward to playing with his friends. We hope he will be able to play like any normal child now. As a family, we would like to pass our sincere gratitude to the team of doctors who performed this surgery and all the staff members who were involved," said Nokuphila.

Speaking at a media briefing to celebrate this successful operation, KwaZulu-Natal Health Head of Department Dr Sandile Tshabalala commended the team of cardiothoracic surgeons for pulling off the "miraculous" operation using technology that was used to treat COVID-19 patients who could not breathe on their own.

"The report that we have received from one of the cardiac surgeons involved, Dr Sanvir Maharaj, indicates that this miracle patient presented with a large hole in his heart, and also had a problem of abnormal heart valves. (Medically, this is known as a "Primum Atrial Septal Defect.")

"As a result of this, his growth and development was adversely affected. And he could not participate in much physical activity without feeling excessively tired. Under normal circumstances, this medical condition is surgically corrected when children are much smaller in age, usually between the ages of 3-5 years, at this hospital.

"However, despite the late presentation to our facility, the patient was still assessed and deemed suitable for surgery," Dr Tshabalala said.

Elaborating on the procedure, Dr Tshabalala said, "The hole in the patient's heart was successfully closed. And the abnormal valves were repaired through a cardio-pulmonary bypass, using a heart and lung machine. This entails literally stopping the patient's heart from beating completely, in order to undertake the surgery."

Dr Tshabalala added that the only chance of any survival for the patient was through usage of a machine called ECMO, (which stands for Extra-Corporeal Membranous Oxygenation), which reportedly costs in the region of R1,5 million.

The ECMO is described as a type of artificial life support that can help a person whose lungs and heart aren't functioning correctly. The ECMO process continuously pumps blood out of a person's body, and sends it through a series of devices that add oxygen and remove carbon dioxide.

This machine was available to a different department, which is the General ICU, but had never been used in the history of Cardiac Surgery in the public healthcare sector in KZN.

The operation was undertaken on 11th July 2023, and lasted more than ten hours.

Dr Tshabalala thanked the hospital's chief cardiac surgeon, Dr Manogran Moonpanar and his team of cardiac surgeons, anaesthetists, paediatric cardiology, the cardiac ICU nursing team, as well as all involved in this groundbreaking surgical operation.

"Even with our limited resources, the success of this operation challenges us to do our best to ensure that these medical experts have all the tools of their trade, such as these ECMO machines, and others," Dr Tshabalala said.

ENDS Issued by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health

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This page last edited on 03 August, 2023

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