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Pioneering surgery saves baby born 3 months early

Doctors fix flaw in Jerrick De Leon's grape-size heart

Surgeons believe Jerrick is the smallest baby to survive this type of open-heart surgery.
Mayo Clinic
Stanford University

(CNN) -- The pediatric surgeon who performed open-heart surgery on a one-week-old baby with a heart the size of a grape said Thursday it was "a wonderful feeling" to be able to save his life.

Surgeons at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital believe that Jerrick De Leon, born more than 13 weeks early, is the smallest baby ever to survive an open-heart procedure called an arterial switch.

The hospital said Jerrick is expected to have a normal life, barring any medical complications from his premature birth.

It said he will be placed on antibiotics as a precaution.

At the time of his operation, on February 6, Jerrick weighed just over 1.5 pounds (700 grams), said his surgeon, Dr. V. Mohan Reddy. Reddy, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery and a professor at Stanford's medical school, specializes in performing surgery on extremely small infants.

Reddy said he knew he could repair the type of heart defect the baby had, but "the complicating fact was the baby was too small and very, very premature."

Still, Reddy said he was "very confident I would be able to take care of this baby."

Jerrick was airlifted to the hospital from southern California on February 4.

His mother, Maria Lourdes De Leon, a pediatric physician herself, said Jerrick's doctors had given him no chance of survival.

"It was very difficult. I was surrendering to whatever comes," she told reporters at a news conference with Reddy.

Lourdes said she felt an enormous relief when the operation was deemed successful.

"There have been ups and downs, but he's a feisty little one. He's very strong," she said.

Lourdes told CNN on Thursday that she was "the luckiest mother around to be able to find someone like Dr. Reddy who was able to do the heart surgery for my baby."

The surgery involved switching two arteries that route blood out of the heart: the aorta and the pulmonary artery.

When Jerrick was born, his heart was sending oxygenated blood back and forth between the heart and the lungs, depriving his body of oxygen-rich blood.

In diameter, the arteries were the size of the tip of a pencil, Reddy said, and the aorta was 3 millimeters, or about one-eighth of an inch, long. His chest was the length of the doctor's finger.

Reddy said he took the case after receiving a call from a cardiac surgeon in Los Angeles.

He said he told the doctor the risk was very high, but he felt the Stanford hospital had the most experience.

The hospital has been doing similar surgeries for 12 years, and its surgeons have performed more than 150 in children weighing under about 4.5 pounds (2 kilograms), Reddy said.

start quoteThere have been ups and downs but he's a feisty little one. He's very strong.end quote
-- Maria Lourdes De Leon

The most serious complicating factors were the baby's premature birth and his size, Reddy said. During surgery, "We have to really be very gentle and careful. Everything you do has to be very scaled down and meticulous."

Jerrick's surgery took two and a half hours. The entire procedure, including preparation, lasted six.

Doctors said he is expected to remain in the hospital for six to eight more weeks, until he is about 30 weeks old.

At that time, Jerrick may be well enough to be transferred to a hospital in Southern California.

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