NC newborn becomes world's first partial heart transplant recipient at Duke Health

Akilah Davis Image
Thursday, September 8, 2022
NC newborn becomes world's first partial heart transplant recipient
Duke Health said surgeons have performed what is believed to be the world's first partial heart transplant on a five-pound newborn.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The scarring on baby Owen Monroe's chest is a reminder to his parents of the leap of faith they took. He doesn't know it yet, but he's the world's first person to ever successfully receive a partial heart transplant.

"He was basically already in heart failure right out the gate," said Tayler Monroe, Owens's mother.

He was born with a condition called truncus arteriosus, where his two main heart arteries were fused together. Doctors say he wouldn't survive the wait for a full heart transplant. His parents reside in Leland and traveled to Duke Hospital for the procedure.

"Being in healthcare, I knew going in this could be the last time seeing my son, but I was hoping that wasn't the case," said Monroe. "It was wild. We didn't know what to expect, but at that point, we didn't really have any other options."

In an eight-hour procedure, Duke medical professionals fused the living arteries and valves from a donated heart onto Owen's heart. The infant was just 17 days old at the time.

"He was small. He was only five pounds. You can only imagine how big his arteries were. Smaller than your pinky. We needed to figure out how to put valves in that grow with him," said Dr. Joseph Turek, who led the surgical team.

Once the surgery ended, Duke staff celebrated the successful procedure with a bubble machine in the hospital halls.

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"He was five pounds and didn't skip a beat most of the time. He worried us quite a lot every day. Seemed to be OK otherwise," said Dr. Michael Carboni, Duke medical professional.

Owen is now 5 months old. He enjoys laughing, playing, tummy time and looking at himself in the mirror. His parents say he is proof that even at such a young age, being a heart warrior is possible.

"Not only he's OK, he's thriving really. It gives a lot of hope for future babies that have to go through this," said Monroe.