Dubai teenager with a hole in her heart has life-saving surgery

Rare congenital defect went undetected for years by doctors who thought Yasmin Hammad, 13, had asthma

Yasmin Hammad, 13, pictured with her mother Katerina, was originally diagnosed with asthma. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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A girl living with an undiagnosed hole in her heart has been given a life-saving operation after the intervention of a cardiac specialist in Dubai.

Doctors had repeatedly missed a congenital heart defect Yasmin Hammad had lived with since birth, diagnosing her symptoms as asthma and other respiratory issues instead.

The 13-year-old in Motor City often complained of chest pains and breathlessness, but several hospital visits failed to detect the potentially life-threatening atrial septal defect.

It was annoying because it was harder for me to do kung fu with these symptoms
Yasmin Hammad

When she took up martial arts, Yasmin felt dizzy and breathless and her mother decided to try another specialist who finally diagnosed the problem.

She was immediately booked her in for emergency surgery with Dr Haysam Baho, an expert in paediatric cardiology at Saudi German Hospital in Dubai on September 30.

“When Yasmin was exercising or trying to do any kind of exertion she would get particularly out of breath,” said her mother, Katerina Hammad, who is from the Czech Republic.

“We took her to several hospitals for a check-up, but no doctor could find the reason why and said everything was OK.

“They said it was just muscle pain, but it was very uncomfortable for Yasmin as she was feeling dizzy and could not take deep breaths.

“When we went to Saudi German Hospital we asked for a new paediatrician to take a look, who did an ultrasound.

“He found two holes in her heart; there was one big, one small. It was a big shock for us.”

ASD is a birth defect that manifests as a hole in the wall that separates the heart’s upper chambers.

It is one of the most common congenital heart problems, with the holes varying in size.

During pregnancy, a baby’s heart will develop with several openings in its dividing wall, these usually close during pregnancy or after birth.

A hole that fails to close increases the amount of blood flow to the lungs, damaging blood vessels. If left untreated, the problem can lead to high blood pressure, with an added risk of stroke and heart failure.

Rare condition

According to the US Centres for Disease Control, about 13 of every 10,000 babies born have an ASD.

Although the causes are not fully understood, a combination of genetics and a change in chromosomes, paired with environmental factors during pregnancy, are thought to be the most likely.

Because newborns rarely show any obvious signs or symptoms, as in Yasmin’s case, ASD can be difficult to detect.

“When the doctors told us this condition was potentially life-threatening, that scared me even more,” Ms Hammad said.

“Yasmin’s diagnosis was overdue already because usually they discover this in year one or two as a baby, not late like this. Now she's almost 14.

“There were lots of black thoughts coming to my mind. I couldn’t stop crying or sleep because I wondered what if something went wrong in the surgery. Lots of bad things were coming to mind.”

Yasmin was booked in for surgery two days after the diagnosis. The 45-minute procedure involved surgeons going into her heart through a vein in her groin to repair the hole in her heart.

Just two hours later she was back with her parents and is recovering well.

Dr Adnan Munaf, a consultant paediatrician at Saudi German Hospital, made the diagnosis after checking an image of yasmin's heart.

“I immediately thought about a heart problem as the cause of her symptoms, so I undertook an echocardiogram, which is like an ultrasound of the heart,” Dr Munaf said.

“As soon as we did that, we found a big ASD.

"There's a lack of awareness about heart problems in children.

"People just can't imagine a child that young can have heart problems, which are more common in the older population, above 40.

“The reality is about 1 per cent of children here are born with these heart defects, but they are normally picked up at birth.

"The kind of heart defect Yasmin has is very commonly missed during pre-pregnancy screening and can be hard to spot. It is lucky she's not really come to harm.”

Dizzy spells

Yasmin must take anti-platelet medication for six months because there is a risk of blood clots forming, but she should otherwise make a full recovery.

“Sometimes I still feel a bit dizzy, but I couldn't breathe properly before so I do feel much better now,” said Yasmin, who is back in school and wants to be a vet one day.

“It was annoying because it was harder for me to do kung fu with these symptoms.

“I was kind of scared, as I was worried about my life.

“The doctors were good and they were kind. They explained everything to me how the procedure was going to go.

“My friends at school were also worried for me, they're glad that I'm fine now.”

Updated: November 02, 2023, 10:26 AM