Baby Born With Heart Outside Her Body Survives Three Operations

A baby born with her heart outside her chest has survived surgery to insert it back into her chest.

Vanellope Hope Wilkins, who is now three weeks old, was delivered by a team of 50 medical professionals at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, UK, on Nov. 22, CNN reports.

Vanellope was born with ectopia cordis, a rare congenital condition causing her heart to grow outside her body. She has since undergone three intensive surgeries to put her heart inside her chest and is now on the road to recovery.

"I had prepared myself for the worst; that was my way of dealing with it. I had brought an outfit to hospital that she could wear if she died," said Naomi Findlay, Vanellope's mother, in a statement on Tuesday. "I genuinely didn't think my baby would survive, but the staff at Glenfield have been amazing."

"I deal with babies with heart problems all the time, some of them very complicated," Dr. Frances Bu'Lock, consultant in pediatric cardiology at Glenfield Hospital, told CNN. "This is only the second case in 30 years that I've seen this particular condition, it's extremely rare. Vanellope is the first baby to survive this operation in the UK."

Findlay and Dean Wilkins, Vanellope's father, knew from an ultrasound at nine weeks that the baby's heart and part of her stomach had begun to grow outside of her body. At an 18-week ultrasound, Bu'Lock found that while Vanellope's bowel had moved back to the correct position, her heart was still out of place.

Bu'Lock told CNN that she did not expect the baby to survive. "There were so many difficulties — she might have other body organ problems. The chances against her surviving at that stage was huge."

However, when a blood test confirmed that a risk of other chromosomal abnormalities was low, Findlay and Wilkins decided to fight for their child's life.

Four doctors delivered Vanellope via C-section in order to reduce the risk of infection as well as risk of injury to the infant. After the birth, Vanellope was placed in a sterile plastic bag to reduce infection risk to her heart and keep exposed tissues moist.

"Vanellope was born in good condition. She cried at birth and coped well with the early stabilization and her heart continued to beat effectively," said Glenfield Consultant Neonatologist Jonathan Cusack.

"At around 50 minutes of age, it was felt that Vanellope was stable enough to be transferred back to the main theater where she had been born to the waiting anesthetists, congenital heart disease and pediatric surgical teams who began the task of putting her entire heart back inside her chest," he said.

"Now she's out, she's had three surgeries and her heart is covered — I think her chances are a lot better," said Bu'Lock

Ectopia cordis is estimated to affect just under eight babies per million live births, according to the hospital, with less than a 10% chance of survival.

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"To put this in context, we wouldn't expect a case like this to happen in the UK more often than once every five to 10 years," said Dr. Martin Ward-Platt, who was not involved in the procedure.

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