Following life-saving heart surgery in February last year, 13-year-old Parusia Muhigirwa is full of smiles and embracing her year-long experience with a new heart.
This, as Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) Awareness Week wraps up today. Every year from 7 to 14 February, the initiative promotes global awareness and provides education about CHD which is described as the world’s most common birth defect, affecting 1.3 million infants ever year.
Muhigirwa had a dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes heart muscles to weaken and become floppy and large. It is the leading cause of end-stage heart failure in children.
“I’m so grateful for my more energy. I can actually climb stairs now!” an elated Muhigirwa said according to a media release issued by the Western Cape department of health.
The tween added, “I also don’t have to spend so much time in hospital which is great. I can go to school and see my friends.”
Surgery amid Covid-19 pandemic
Muhigirwa’s new lease on life is credited to teams from both the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s and Groote Schuur hospitals in Cape Town.
According to Mignon McCulloch, who heads up the paediatric transplantation service at Red Cross, there are many reasons why children of all ages develop end-stage heart failure. This is when their hearts are no longer able to support normal, everyday functioning.
The most common reason is due to failure of the heart’s muscle (called a cardiomyopathy) of which there are several types where the heart muscle is simply no longer able to function.
Muhigirwa received her transplant during the second wave of Covid-19 in February 2021. When asked about how she felt, knowing that she had to undergo immunosuppression* in the wake of the pandemic, she admits that she felt nervous at first.
“I spoke to my doctors about the risks of Covid-19, especially knowing that I am vulnerable after my transplant,” says Muhigirwa. “That’s why I chose to get my vaccine when it was my turn, and my mother got hers, to ensure I am safe and we don’t need to worry.”
Team work is dream work
Mignon says the medical teams were delighted after the news that Muhigirwa was doing well following her transplant.
“It really highlights fantastic team work between the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and Groote Schuur transplant teams. Her health and vitality is a credit to the fact that transplantation gives a second chance at life. We are really grateful to her donor and the family.”
Dr Anita Parbhoo, chief executive of Red Cross, adds, “We are proud of our team for everything they have done through Covid-19. They have been able to continue offering world-class care to our young patients with chronic conditions, including those in the cardiac service.”