Baby Girl Survives Being Born With Her Heart Outside Her Chest, a British First

Health - Deborah Hastings

Baby Vanellope Wilkins is a born fighter.

Nearly a month old, she is the first infant in Britain to survive being born with her heart outside her body.

Mother Naomi Findlay was nine weeks pregnant when a scan detected the rare affliction known as ectopia cordis. Vanellope's heart and part of her stomach were not inside her body.

Findlay, 31, and Dean Wilkins, 43, were devastated. Doctors told the couple it was very likely Findlay would suffer a miscarriage. They recommended terminating her pregnancy.

But the couple was determined to go the distance. "We decided to fight to give our daughter the best chance of surviving," Wilkins said.

Their daughter may have inherited that spirit. She has also survived three surgeries since Nov. 22 to fit her tiny heart inside her tiny body.

“The moment she was born I realized that we had made the right decision," her father said. "We know this is going to be a roller coaster and have started to prepare ourselves for the difficult times ahead, but we needed to give her a chance."

She wasn't even an hour old when pediatric surgeons wheeled her into the operating room. Babies born such a deformity have less than a 10 percent chance of surviving, doctors told the couple.

Findlay was given a C-section because physicians feared the baby's heart would be crushed in the birth canal. Vanellope came out screaming her head off, her mother said, and wailed for another 20 minutes.

It was the best sound Findlay had ever heard.

"I had prepared myself for the worst; that was my way of dealing with it," she said. "I had brought an outfit to the hospital that she could wear if she died. I'm now confident she won't wear it."

But Vanellope is not out of the woods yet. She will need additional surgeries and skin grafts to fully encase her heart in her chest and cover it with skin from her underarms, doctors said. 

The baby also has no rib cage or sternum.

"She has a long way to go but so far, at least, she now has a chance at a future," said Dr. Nick Moore.

In recent years, a handful of babies have been born with the same affliction, including Kieran Vietz, who survived a series of surgeries after his 2015 birth in North Dakota, and 8-year-old Virsaviya Borun in Florida.

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