Noah's new heart is healthy. Inside the chest of the three-year-old, the organ has a strong and regular beat, as could recently be confirmed by Dr. Eugen Sandica at the outpatients unit of the Pediatric Heart Center in Bad Oeynhausen. Just two months ago, the Clinic Director and experienced cardiosurgeon transplanted a donor heart to this little boy. For Noah's family, normal life has resumed at last. "We are eternally grateful to the parents of the dead child for consenting to organ donation", said Markus N. und Delia P. "It saved our son's life."
Heart transplants in children and adolescents are conducted regularly at the Herz- und Diabeteszentrum NRW (HDZ NRW), Bad Oeynhausen, and yet these major operations are seldom compared to adult heart transplants. The Bad Oeynhausen hospital has transplanted more than 2,500 hearts to date, around 200 of them to recipients under 16 years of age, making it the largest heart transplant center in Europe. "Every cardiac intervention needs to be assessed individually", said Dr. Sandica. The two Chief Physicians at the HDZ NRW Center for Congenital Heart Defects – cardiosurgeon Dr. Sandica and pediatric cardiologist Prof. Dr. Matthias Peuster – discuss each treatment step for their patients together, always cooperating closely. "In Noah's case we had known for almost a year that a heart transplant was the only option."
Almost a year waiting
Almost a year, that is how long little Noah had to wait in hospital for a donor heart because his own diseased heart was no longer able to pump enough blood around his body. He was admitted to the HDZ NRW in Bad Oeynhausen as an emergency case at the age of two. During surgery lasting several hours, the pediatric cardiac team implanted an artificial assist device which immediately began to pump blood around Noah's body, taking over from his own sick heart. During this period his family went through a series of extreme ups and downs. "The artificial pump served to bridge the wait until a donor heart became available", Dr. Sandica explained.
And that bridge remained the only possible solution if Noah was to stay alive because there was no donor heart available. Except for Germany, where a decision still has to be reached, all countries within the Eurotransplant Association have agreed upon a state-regulated opt-out system for organ donation in order to increase the number of donors and save more lives. "We are pleased to have the option of implanting an assist device", Dr. Sandica said. "But the best treatment is still a heart transplant."
The cardiac specialists in Bad Oeynhausen conduct one of the largest assist device and artificial heart programs in the world. Children with such a device rely on large, external Berlin Heart System machine drives, to which they are connected by cable.
During their long wait, Noah's parents and big sister Nele (6) made the nearby Ronald McDonald Foundation House for Parents their home from home. "It was good for us to meet other families in the same situation", they said. During this period they also supported the "Heart for Children" campaign which promotes pediatric organ donation. One of its lobbyists is former World Boxing Champion Wladimir Klitschko, who visited Noah in Bad Oeynhausen and informed himself about the possible introduction of an opt-out system in Germany. At Noah's sick bed, Klitschko signed a pair of blue boxing gloves for him. Victorious fighter Noah has now been able to take his gift home, where it has been given pride of place in his bedroom.
Herz- und Diabeteszentrum Nordrhein-Westfalen
Universitätsklinik der Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit
Leitung: Anna Reiss
32545 Bad Oeynhausen
Tel. 05731 97-1955
Fax 05731 97-2028