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British Girl's Heart Heals Itself After Transplant

British Girl's Heart Heals Itself After Transplant

This April 12 2006 picture shows Hannah Clark, of Cardiff Wales, who has made a full recovery after she given an extra heart at the age of two. (Source: AP Photo/Barry Batchelor, PA))

Associated Press/AP Online

July 14, 2009

LONDON — British doctors designed a radical solution to save a girl with major heart problems in 1995: they implanted a donor heart directly onto her own failing heart.

After 10 years with two blood pumping organs, Hannah Clark’s faulty one did what many experts had thought impossible: it healed itself enough so that doctors could remove the donated heart.

But she also had a price to pay: the drugs Clark took to prevent her body from rejecting the donated heart led to malignant cancer that required chemotherapy.

Details of Clark’s revolutionary transplant and follow-up care were published online Tuesday in the medical journal Lancet.

More General Health News

“This shows that the heart can indeed repair itself if given the opportunity,” said Dr. Douglas Zipes, a past president of the American College of Cardiology. Zipes was not linked to Clark’s treatment or to the Lancet paper. “The heart apparently has major regenerative powers, and it is now key to find out how they work.”

In 1994, when Clark was eight months old, she developed severe heart failure and doctors put her on a waiting list to get a new heart. But Clark’s heart difficulties caused problems with her lungs, meaning she also needed a lung transplant.

To avoid doing a risky heart and lung transplant, doctors decided to try something completely different.

Sir Magdi Yacoub of Imperial College London, one of the world’s top heart surgeons, said that if Clark’s heart was given a time-out, it might be able to recover on its own. So in 1995 Yacoub and others grafted a donor heart from a 5-month-old directly onto Clark’s own heart.

After four and a half years, both hearts were working fine, so Yacoub and colleagues decided not to take out the extra heart.

The powerful drugs Clark was taking to prevent her from rejecting the donor heart then caused cancer, which led to chemotherapy. Even when doctors lowered the doses of drugs to suppress Clark’s immune system, the cancer spread, and Clark’s body eventually rejected the donor heart.


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