Surgeons perform life-saving heart surgery on five-year-old girl

Specialists in Zulekha Hospital in Sharjah repaired a hole to Jana Akawi’s heart

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Salam Al Amir: 5 year-old Jana Abdulrahman saved after doctors diagnosed and treated a heart defect she was born with. Wednesday, March 18th, 2020. Sharjah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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UAE surgeons performed life-saving surgery on a five-year-old girl with a two-centimetre hole in her heart.

In a four-hour procedure, a team of specialists successfully closed the gap between the two upper chambers of Jana Akawi’s heart.

The child was first taken to hospital in February this year suffering from a high temperature and an acute cough.

“She was brought to the emergency room by her family,” said Dr Yasser Menaissy, a cardiac surgeon at Zulekha Hospital in Sharjah who performed the surgery.

We used a surgical retractor to keep the ribs apart which gave us a slightly wider inside space that allowed us to cut a part of the heart's pericardium

"She had a large atrial septal defect  a hole in the wall between the heart's upper chambers  that caused moderately severe increased blood pressure in one of her lung's arteries.

“The normal range for blood pressure in that artery is between 15 and 20 but hers was 60, which is extremely high for a child.

“I explained to her family she had a 2cm hole around her heart which was very big for her age.”

Jana, whose family is from Palestine but now live in Sharjah, was admitted to hospital on March 3.

Her parents told doctors that she often suffered from chest infections, prompting medics to run a series of tests.

Following an echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, the specialists identified the atrial septal defect.

The higher pressure in the artery resulted in a build-up of fluid in the lungs, making it difficult for Jana to breathe.

If left untreated, it could have caused heart failure.

Surgeons made a 5cm cut between her fourth and fifth ribs on the right side of her chest.

From there, the team was able to access the organ, cut away a sliver of membrane and then stitch the same piece of membrane over the hole to close it.

“Unlike what most people think, the heart is located almost in the middle of the chest,” said Dr Menaissy.

“During surgeries, we can only access the heart from the right side of the chest after breaking chest bones. 

“That’s why it was possible for us to access the child’s heart by making a wound on the right side between her ribs.

“Then, we used a surgical retractor to keep the ribs apart which gave us a slightly wider inside space that allowed us to cut a part of the heart’s pericardium, which is the membrane enclosing the heart, then stitch it on top of the hole to close it.

“A simple thing like going to the toilet would have drained her energy while rapid heartbeats could lead to death if the defect was not treated.”

A day after the procedure, Jana was moved out of the intensive care unit and into a regular ward. Two days later, she was discharged.

“Her recovery is excellent,” said Nada Abdulrahman, Jana’s mother.

“She always complained from general pain in her body and she was tired and out of breath almost all the time.

“We would walk for few minutes before she said she was tired and asked me to carry her."