A team of cardiology specialists from two Netcare hospitals have implanted two life-saving mechanical heart devices in ten-year-old boy, Philasande Dladla.

According to a statement released by Netcare, Dladla suffered from cardiomyopathy, a chronic disease of the heart, as a result of a viral infection he contracted last year. His parents had thought the infection was just a bout of flu. However, it quickly damaged Dladla’s heart and heart valves, resulting in his heart failing.

Dladla underwent a lifesaving operation whereby a mechanical heart in the form of a heart ventricular assist device (HVAD) was implanted in his body to enable his damaged heart to continue functioning.

Dladla is the first person in the world to have two mechanical heart devices implanted in his body. He’s also the first child in Africa to have been implanted with a long-term artificial heart device.

“As far as we have been able to establish, Dladla is the first person in the world to have had both short-term and long-term mechanical heart devices implanted,” said Cardiac and Transplant Surgeon at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, Dr Willie Koen, who led the surgical team that implanted the hi-tech lifesaving device. Dr Koen also pioneered the use of mechanical heart implantation in South Africa.

“The young boy had a temporary tandem mechanical heart device implanted at Netcare Milpark Hospital six months ago while his damaged heart valves were repaired,” said Dr Koen.

“These operations were nothing short of lifesaving and demonstrate the massive advances we are continuing to make in this country in the field of heart medicine. We are now able to use devices such as HVAD as a long-term solution to heart failure,” continued Dr Koen.

The operation to implant the tandem mechanical heart device was undertaken in May 2016 to keep Dladla’s heart functioning until the team at the hospital could perform a further operation to repair his heart valves.

HVAD helps to restore normal blood flow by enabling the left ventricle of the heart to operate properly. The right ventricle of the patient’s heart must be able to function if the system is to be used. If not, another device called the Berlin Heart is used instead.

HVAD is implanted via open-heart surgery and the patient has to wear a small external battery pack to hold the batteries, which power the device.

“These procedures not a long-term solution and were designed to win Dladla time, as his heart had been damaged to such an extent that he needed a transplant,” said Dr Koen.

Netcare says while Dladla was on a transplant list, a suitable matching donor heart for a child is extremely difficult to come by and, as a result, another solution had to be found.

“These procedures were significant milestones in the history of cardiac medicine in this country and demonstrate what can be achieved with modern medicine when all role players work together to achieve the best possible outcomes,” said Managing Director of Netcare’s hospital division, Jacques du Plessis.

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