First-ever partial heart transplant performed on 17-day-old baby in NC at Duke Health

Amber Rupinta Image
Wednesday, January 3, 2024
World's first partial heart transplant deemed success 1 year later
"Looking back, we never knew if we would make it one week, much less one year"

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- At almost 21 months old Owen Monroe is a medical miracle, born with a lethal heart condition.

"Looking back, we never knew if we would make it one week, much less one year," said Nick Monroe, Owen's father.

But by taking part in a groundbreaking study led by Duke health physicians, Owen is thriving.

In the spring of 2022 at just 17 days old, Owen was the first in the world to receive a partial heart transplant.

"He had a heart defect called truncus arteriosus, which basically is everybody's got two arteries that come out of your heart. And he just had one that came out of both sides," explained Nick. "Dr.Turek took the groups and the valves of a pulmonary artery and aorta from a donor baby and replaced that one valve and one artery with these implanted ones, to make his heart 100%."

A year later, Duke doctors said Owen's procedure was a success. The transplanted parts are growing with his own heart. Doctors also said the novel procedure only required a fraction of medications.

"The amazing thing is, when we were discharged, he was discharged with 17 daily medications to control all of the stuff post-operation. But now we're down to only two medications," Nick said.

Doctors at Duke published their findings Tuesday in the journal of the American Medical Association.

Before Owen's case, doctors would insert valves that were non-living and wouldn't grow with the child. The valves would then require numerous risky replacement surgeries, but in Owen's case, living arteries and valves from a donor were fused into his heart, now growing in place.

It's a milestone that could open the door for many more heart-saving operations, paving the way for a domino heart transplant.

"If your child is waiting for a heart transplant under a year of age, 20 percent of those children will not get a heart," said Dr. Joseph Turek. "So finding a way to double the number of patients to receive the gift is going to help so many children who may not have made it to a transplant."

"I just I know he's here for a purpose and he's gonna change the world, he already has. We're just kinda here to steer him in the right direction," Owen's mother, Tayler Monroe said.

ALSO SEE: Surgeon, patient show off first-ever eye and partial face transplant