'Miracle' boy who was born with four heart defects survives despite doctors telling his parents to 'let him die naturally because surgery would kill him'
Alfie was born three months early with four major heart defectsHis mother said her gut instinct told her he was a fighterAlfie battled for eight months before he was big enough to have life-saving surgery. Ten months later he no longer needs medication
15:09 GMT, 1 October 2012
A couple who were told their premature baby boy would die if he underwent surgery after being born with four life-threatening heart defects, today hailed their 'miracle' son after he proved doctors wrong to survive.
Alfie McAusland, was born three months early with his main arteries in the wrong
place, a large hole in his heart, a narrowing valve, and unconnected blood
His parents Natalie and Christopher, from Tullibody in Alloa, Scotland, were told there was no hope for their tiny son.
Doctors, who had never encountered this
combination of deadly defects before, advised the couple to let 2lb 6oz
Alfie die naturally as he was too small to survive surgery.
Fighter: Alfie in hospital recovering from his 15-and-a-half hour surgery to re-wire his heart (left) and today with his mother Natalie
But Mrs McAusland said 'gut instinct' told her that Alfie was a 'fighter' and she refused to give up on her son.
Now, after spending weeks on a
ventilator and just 10 months after a marathon 15-and-a-half hours in
theatre to re-wire his heart, Alfie is like any healthy 18-month-old,
who loves playing with his twin brother Blair.
Natalie and Christopher with their twin boys. It was the first day that Alfie (right) and Blair had been brought together at nine weeks old
Mrs McAusland, 33, said: 'He’s a miracle. They said he was too small and would not survive to be big enough to have the surgery.
'It was devastating. They basically said they couldn’t possibly fix his heart and we were advised to let him go.
'As a parent, to be faced with that decision was the worst thing. But we felt it would be an injustice not to give him the opportunity to fight for himself.
'If there was ever someone on the brink of this world and the next, that was Alfie. He didn’t seem to be here nor there.
'Now, sometimes I will look at him and cry without realising it. I’m so proud of how strong he’s been. Even one of the cardiologists refers to him as ‘miracle boy’.'
Staff at Glasgow’s Yorkhill Hospital, where he was treated, consulted with surgeons as far a field as Canada before going ahead with the risky operation when he was just eight months old.
The surgery was even carefully scheduled to coincide with when his 32-year-old dad was home from his private security work in Iraq.
The family’s nightmare began just four days after Alfie and his brother were born 12 weeks premature in Stirling.
Scans detected anomalies with his heart and he was taken to Yorkhill, where he was diagnosed with four major defects.
Together they left Alfie with an insufficient circulation that put excess pressure on his heart and lungs, which would have eventually resulted in heart failure.
Luckily he developed a small obstruction in his heart, which helped restrict the amount of blood that was flooding into his lungs.
Alfie on a heart and lung bypass machine immediately after his surgery. He recovered well and no longer needs medication
Mrs McAusland, who has three other children, said: 'He was on and off a ventilator for eight weeks and somehow managed to gain enough strength at 16 weeks to come home for a while.
'There were periods when he would turn blue. He set his apnoea monitor off about a dozen times a night because his breathing was so shallow.
'It was just a case of keeping him stable at home until he was big enough for the surgery. But even at that point there were no guarantees they would be able to do a complete repair.'
Alfie was so weak that his mother had to wait three weeks before she got to hold him for the first time, while he was still on a ventilator.
At eight months old, however, his condition started to deteriorate. He was so poorly he could barely suckle a bottle.
But as he was nearing the target weight of 13lbs, which he had to be to endure the risky operation, surgeons decided to proceed before he became too weak.
Full of beans: Alfie (right) now loves to play with his twin brother Blair
Mrs McAusland said: 'He went in [to surgery] at 9am and it wasn’t until half past midnight that we got him back to the intensive care unit.
'Even after the surgery, we were told it was difficult to see anyway out of the situation for him. At that point they had done everything they could for him. But to come that far and be faced with the prospect of burying your baby was devastating.
'I felt guilty because if this was to be the end, it would be a terrible way to die. But I’m glad we took the risk. It’s been worth the gamble.'
Alfie had to be hooked up to a heart and lung bypass machine to keep him alive during the surgery.
He only came off it two days later when his heart was able to cope with the changes.
ALFIE'S FOUR HEART DEFECTS
Alfie was born with transposition of
the great arteries, which meant the vessels taking blood away from the
heart to the lungs and the body were plumbed in the wrong way around.
He also had double outlet right
ventricle, which meant there were no blood vessels connected to the
heart’s main pumping chamber to the body.
His third defect was ventricle septal defect, which left a large hole in the wall between the right and left ventricles.
And he had mitral valve stenosis, a
narrowing of the valve, restricting the flow of blood and causing a
lethal build up of pressure behind it.
He also remained on a ventilator for a further six weeks, until he was eventually able to go home.
He had to take up to 12 medicines a day. But despite being on and off a ventilator for 14 weeks in total during six months in hospital, Alfie is now off all medication.
Alfie may need further surgery in his teens to replace a synthetic valve, which he will eventually grow out of.
But Mrs McAusland said: 'We were told if he survived the operation, the world was his.
'He came off all his medicines two weeks ago and now he’s just a normal little boy who loves playing with his brother, rolling around the floor and playing with cars.
'He’s such a happy boy and always got a smile. I’m so proud of him, I’m just bursting with pride. I always knew he was a fighter and the staff at Yorkhill were amazing.'
Consultant cardiac surgeon Mark Danton, who performed Alfie‘s operation, said: 'He had quite a complex cardio anatomy that is very rare in public literature.
'The surgical process was quite a long process because of the combination of defects that had to be dealt with.
'We certainly pushed the envelope. He was a challenge. He had a complex combination of conditions, he was premature, and if you put it all down on paper there were a lot of risk factors to cause some anxiety and increase the operative risk.
'There are a lot of uncertainties and unknowns in rare conditions but we are delighted with his recovery. He now has a heart that works like a normal heart.
'His exercise tolerance should be pretty close to normal and I can’t see any reason why he should not have a good outlook.'