Doctors save baby born with heart outside her body

Battling Baby Vanellope in an incubator with her little heart just visible

"Vanellope is the first baby to survive this operation in the United Kingdom".

Builder Dean, 43, said: "We were holding our breath, waiting for her to take her first breath".

"It's like we held our breath through it all for her", her mother said.

"But when she came out and she came out crying that was it, the relief fell out of me". 'Twenty minutes went by and she was still shouting her head off - it made us so joyful and teary'.

About 50 clinical staffers at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester worked to bring Vanellope into the world, according to a release.

In a subsequent operation, her skin was used to cover the hole in her chest.

Vanellope, who is named after a character in Disney's Wreck-It Ralph, was due on Christmas Eve but was delivered early in order to minimize the risk of an infection or damage to her heart.

Her parents Naomi Findlay and Dean Wilkins, of Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, said the first scans led doctors to tell them that "termination" was the only option.

After the birth, she said, "I felt guilty for thinking negative thoughts because here she is fighting, and there there was I, about to give up".

An initial ultrasound scan at nine weeks had alerted Vanellope's parents, Naomi Findlay and Dean Wilkins, that their baby's heart and part of her stomach had begun to grow outside of her body.

Findlay and the baby's father, Dean Wilkins, were told the baby's chances were very slim, but they got a second opinion.

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"In the end I said termination is not an option, if it happened naturally, then so be it".

Tests went on to show that, apart the heart condition, Vanellope was healthy.

"When she cried, we cried. At that point we made a decision to fight to give our daughter the best chance of surviving".

The baby's slow heart rate gave cause for concern and the care team decided a caesarean section delivery would give the best chance of survival.

"All the way through, it was "the chances of survival are next to none, the only option is to terminate, we can offer counselling" and things like that".

Medics are increasingly optimistic Vanellope will beat the odds.

East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre lead surgeon Branko Mimic said: "Cases such as Vanellope's, where everything else appears essentially normal, are even rarer, and whilst therefore it would seem more hopeful she will do well, it is therefore nearly impossible to be confident of this".

However after three surgeries, to move her heart into her chest and create an artificial rib cage and sternum, she is now believed to be the first successfully treated case of ectopia cordis in the UK. "The work that they have done is absolutely incredible", she said.

"The prognosis depends on the severity of the condition and if there are other abnormalities, but treatment needs to begin immediately after birth".

Babies born with the condition - one estimate is five to eight per million - have less than a 10% chance of survival.

Only 50 known cases have reached the age of 12.

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