MAJURO — A Marshall Islands baby who received a heart transplant is reported to be doing “amazingly well” several days after the operation in California.
The 16-month-old baby is believed to be the first person from the Marshall Islands to receive a heart transplant.
The history-making seven-hour transplant operation at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego went well, according to his mother. The baby, Jarius Kwan Jenkins, is the son of Savannah Hanerg and Derrick Nicholas Jenkins, both Marshall Islanders who live in Hawaii.
Several days after the weekend operation, the baby was “awake and kicking and just doing amazingly well,” Hanerg said of the baby Thursday this week, just days after the life-changing surgery at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California.
Baby Jarius was diagnosed with heart problems before birth during prenatal visits at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children in Honolulu. Ultrasound scans showed he suffered from pulmonary atresia and severe coronary heart disease. Pulmonary atresia is a form of heart disease in which the heart valve that regulates blood flow from the right side of the heart to the lungs does not form properly.
Mother and unborn baby were referred to Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Woman and Newborns in San Diego, where Jarius was born June 27 last year. In the lead up to last weekend’s transplant, the baby had gone through four other heart-related surgeries, including placement of a pacemaker to regulate his heart beat. But his condition was not improving because of the heart disease.
When doctors first recommended consideration of a heart transplant a year ago, the parents declined, Hanerg said. But a follow up meeting several months ago with a heart transplant team at Rady Children’s Hospital convinced them to move ahead. This resulted in baby Jarius being listed for donation of a new heart.
Three months went by as the baby continued his long in-hospital stay. At 4am this past Saturday, a nurse practitioner with the heart transplant team rang Hanerg. Before the nurse could get more than an initial greeting out, Hanerg shouted into the phone: “Yes, yes, yes, we’ll take it!” A phone call from the heart transplant team could mean only one thing: a donor with a heart that matched the baby had been found — time was of the essence.
At 2 p.m. the same day, the baby went into surgery at Rady Children’s Hospital and was out seven hours later — “a success,” said Hanerg. “Recovery will be another process and another journey, but let’s stay in the now and take this all in,” she added. “It is a transplanted heart!”
Majuro hospital Chief of Medical Staff Dr. Robert Maddison said this week that there have not been any Marshallese children or adults to previously receive a heart transplant.
Another Marshallese baby is on the list for a heart transplant, according to Hanerg. The second baby was born on December 22 last year. “His mom and I have been here the longest,” Hanerg said of their stay in San Diego with their babies who are being treated for heart disease.