Amazing Baby

Reporter: Monika Kos

“I don't pray, but all the time I was saying, if there's a god up there please save Rhys.. I wanted our little boy to live” says his parents Dr David Andrews says “ninety percent of them will be dead in one year and a vast majority of them in the first month or so.”

Like most five year old boys, Rhys Huggins is energentic, active and a little cheeky. Rhys is also different.. born with a very sick heart.. at just nine days old, Rhys made medical history.. as the youngest patient to have open heart surgery in Western Australia.

His parents can't understand “why, why us.. I mean I did nothing wrong throughout that pregnancy, I tried to do everything right and for that to happen, I don't know why.”

Michelle Fletcher says Rhys was a much wanted baby... she had a wonderful pregnancy... and a long, tiring natural birth.

Rhys was nine pound three.. a beautiful big baby... but ten hours later, he began turning blue. “I couldn't even see him through doctors and nurses in that ward, they were just everywhere.. it must've been an awful shock as a new parent?.... it was , it was, it wasn't what I was expecting, no.” says Michelle.

Rhys was rushed to Princess Margaret Hospital where he was officially diagnosed with a condition known as Transposition of the Great Arteries.

Dr David Andrews says “we see around five to six children a year in Western Australia with that condition.”

Cardio-thoracic Surgeon David Andrews says the condition is rare.. it basically means, the two major blood vessels coming from Rhys' heart went to the wrong positions.

“It means that blood that is normally going to the lungs to get oxygen, goes back to the body without oxygen, so you have two separate circulations, one pumping blood that doesn't have oxygen back around the body, and one pumping blood that does have oxygen back around the lungs, so therefore, not compatible with long term life. “

In most cases, the little patients forced to fly to Melbourne for corrective surgery. WA unable to perform such a critical procedure.Dr David Andrews says “the family, usually only one of them, had to pack themselves off and go off to Melbourne without any support and sit around and watch their child have major surgery.” But not this time.. several months before Rhys was born a new cardiac program started in Perth.. Rhys, would be the first to undergo the delicate surgery at PMH. First, Rhys needed to be stabilised.

“The initial aim is to get the bood mixing so we put them on a medication to keep a vessel called the ductus open and then we also make a hole in one of the chambers of their heart, again to allow the blood to mix.” Says Dr David Andrew”

February twenty 2001.. the major operation.. nine days after Rhys was born. “We actually carried him down, I didn't want to put him on a bed, so we actually carried him down and said our goodbyes.. handed him to the nurse who took him away and it was a long eight to twelve hour wait.” Says his parents.

Rhys was in very capable hands.. David Andrews, already an established heart surgeon, had spent a further two years training in Sydney exactly for this procedure.. its a big operation.

Dr David Andrews says “if you get it right it goes very well, if you get it wrong it goes very badly.”

Now any heart surgery is complicated, it requires incredible skill and a very steady hand, so imagine how intricate and complex paediatric heart surgery is, when the area being operated on is no bigger than a thumbnail, amazing really.

Dr David Andrews says “The suture's thinner than a human hair and the tips of the forceps are about a mm in size and the needle holders are quite small. The pulmonary artery and the aorta are about five to six mm's in size and the coronary arteries are about a mm.. and you use microscopes, well not microscopes, but I wear what you call loops, which magnify three and a half times.” The magnifying camera is fixed to Dr Andrew's head, and provides extraordinary images of his work.

“If you get things one mm out of whack, then it distorts them and throws things out completely, I mean you're talking about getting blood flow down a one mm coronary artery, if you twist that in the clock face ten degrees, then that may compromise it, kink it. “

It's crucial Dr Andrew's has clear access to the heart.. so, as incredible as it may seem.. the heart is stopped.. and a machine helps keep the pateint alive. It takes over the function of the heart and lungs... Rhys' heart was stopped for seventy-one minutes. “It takes the blood that's coming back from his body, so the blue blood and it diverts it through a machine that pumps it back into the artery going to his body.”

The surgery itself can last five or more hours... if all goes well, the patient leaves with a normal heart. “Hopefully they'll be fine for the rest of their life, but we've only been doing it for thirty years and life's a long time when you start off at one month.”

It's certainly looking good for Rhys.. he's made a wonderful recovery.. healthy and happy.. and if you didn't see his scar, you'd never have a clue what he's been through.

Monika asks Rhys “how did you get that scar, they took it out, what did they take out? my old heart and put it in a machine and it makes it to a new heart.. a better heart.. it made it work properly? yep, that's amazing.. what do you think of that ? yep, good.”

“I sometimes look at him and I feel like he's been here before he's just so quick at picking things up, you'd think with what he has it'd be a setback.. I worry because I think he should be sick and I should be watching him, but he's more normal than normal..they've re-started his heart and he's just not looked back.” says his parents.