Thaakirah was three months old in 2011 when her mother, Raadhiyah, took her to the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital for severe diarrhoea. What started as a medical condition soon turned into an experience that her parents will never forget. Raadhiyah was told that her baby had Transposition of the Great Arteries, Pulmonary Stenosis and Ventricular Septal Defect – jargon at the time but doctors made sure that the family completely understood Thaakirah’s situation.
The gist of the doctors’ diagnosis was that little Thaakirah’s heart presented extremely complex defects where her two main arteries were reversed, resulting in decreased oxygen in the blood pumped to the rest of her body. She also had a heart valve disorder and a hole in the wall that separates the right and left chambers of her heart. At the age of three months, surgeons inserted a cardiac shunt to oxygenate her blood due to the narrowing of her pulmonary vessel and she needed to have regular check-ups with cardiologists on an outpatient basis.
Thaakirah’s condition is known as Double Outlet Right Ventricle (DORV), statistically classed as 1 in 500 000 which falls into 1 – 3% of the global congenital heart defects.
In 2013, Thaakirah’s parents were offered the opportunity for a visiting cardiothoracic surgeon from France to perform the corrective surgery required but Thaakirah developed an ear and throat infection and the surgery was cancelled. While her little body was fighting the infection, Thaakirah showed signs of facial paralysis and was admitted to the cardiac ward at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. A day later, she lost movement on one side of her body and after an MRI scan, neurologists detected two abscesses growing on her brain – one on the surface of her brain and the other right in the centre of her brainstem. This unfortunate situation resulted from infected blood clots which moved from one heart chamber to the other and up to her brain, according to her cardiologist.
Neurosurgeons executed an emergency operation on the abscess on the surface of her brain but the second abscess was located in a very difficult position, deep inside the brain and in a space of less than 2cm.
The abscess was growing fast. Neurosurgeons performed a stereotactic neuronavigation-guided aspiration of the abscess using the Cape Town Stereotactic Pointer, designed by a team of Cape Town professionals. This operation had not been done for years at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and the risk was paralysis or not waking up after the surgery. The procedure was successful and Thaakirah had an excellent recovery after a period of critical care in the Hospital’s Paediatric Intensive Care Unit – the largest ICU for children in Africa. However, this journey of hospital admissions was not over for Thaakirah as her heart defects were still detrimental.
Thaakirah had a Nikaidoh-bex procedure performed by resident cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr André Brooks – a first time surgical procedure of its kind on a child’s heart at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. Her main arteries were reversed to the position it should be and the pulmonary vessel was brought out anteriorly (to the front of her heart) and connected to the right heart ventricle due to the complex narrowing of this vessel – another milestone achievement for this extraordinary children’s hospital.
During her recuperation in the paediatric ICU, the family stayed at Thaakirah’s bedside while she regained her strength under the vigilant care of critical care specialists and a multidisciplinary team of medical professionals who monitored every aspect of her recovery. She is now back home with her family and will continue to visit the Red Cross Children’s Hospital’s cardiologists as an outpatient.