Baby Born With Her Heart Outside Her Body Survives Three Intensive Surgeries

A little girl named Vanellope Hope Wilkins was born three weeks ago in the U.K.
University Hospitals of Leicester

A baby girl in the U.K. who was born three weeks ago with her heart outside her body is making international headlines. Although she had been due on Christmas Eve, Vanellope Hope Wilkins was delivered by a team of 50 medical professionals at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, UK on November 22. She was born with ectopia cordis -- which means "out-of-place heart" -- a rare congenital condition causing her heart to grow outside her body. In the days following her birth, she had three intensive surgeries to put her heart inside her chest. 

Vanellope's mom Naomi Findlay said in a statement issued by the hospital on Tuesday, December 13: "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. I genuinely didn't think my baby would survive, but the staff at Glenfield have been amazing."

Around nine weeks, Findlay had an initial ultrasound, and doctors told her, along with her partner Dean Wilkins, that their baby's heart -- as well as part of her stomach -- was growing outside of her body. At 16 weeks, the couple received good news: Another ultrasound showed her bowel was in the correct position. They also learned baby's risk of other chromosomal abnormalities was low, according to a blood test. Still, Vanellope's heart's placement was still of concern. Wilkins said in the hospital's statement, “When the results of that test came back as low risk of any abnormalities we jumped up and down in the living room and cried. At that point, we decided to fight to give our daughter the best chance of surviving.”

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

Now, the little girl is the first newborn to have survived this operation in the U.K., but according to the New York Times, few comparable cases have been reported in the United States. Dr. Frances Bu'Lock, consultant in pediatric cardiology at Glenfield Hospital, told CNN that this was only the second case in 30 years that she's seen this particular, "extremely rare" condition.

Obviously, Findlay and Wilkins couldn't be more grateful for the care their little girl has received. Wilkins said in a statement: "The moment she was born I realized that we had made the right decision. People always knock the NHS, but all we have seen from the team at Glenfield is kindness and a desire to keep Naomi and Vanellope safe and I can't begin to thank them for what they have done for my girls."

With hope, this baby will only get stronger and healthier with time. One thing's for certain: She may have been born with her heart outside of her body, but she'll grow up as a survivor.

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