10 April 2017
A 13-year-old girl from Worcester, who is the first child in Britain to have received an artificial heart, has told her story for the first time since the operation last year.
Speaking to the Guardian, Chloe Narbonne said: “I feel well, like my normal self, but not quite my normal self, not after what I’ve been through. I guess the artificial heart was my lifesaver; it’s what kept me alive until I got another heart. What I’ve been through is life-changing.”
The total artificial heart operation took nine hours and involved 30 staff. Crucially, it meant she stayed alive until a human heart became available a few weeks later.
Diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy when she was four weeks old, Chloe managed her condition with medication until she was 11, when her heart failed and she was placed on the transplant waiting list. But she suffered a stroke while waiting for a transplant and, when that transplant finally came, she was left close to death.
A total artificial heart was the only option to keep her alive until another heart could be transplanted, but had never been used in such a young patient before anywhere in Europe. Mr André Simon, director of transplantation at Harefield Hospital, flew back early from a conference in the US to operate on Chloe last May.
Chloe was transferred to Royal Brompton while on a life-saving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine (ECMO), which delivers oxygen to a patient from outside the body.
Although Harefield Hospital is the Trust’s transplant centre, the operation took place at Royal Brompton, because its dedicated paediatric intensive care unit – which specialises in patients with heart and lung conditions – could provide vital round the clock care following Chloe’s operation.
The transplant and mechanical support team from Harefield Hospital, including specialist operating theatre nurses and anaesthetists, and all the equipment and surgical instruments required to transplant the total artificial heart, was transferred from Harefield to Royal Brompton, while Mr Simon flew back early from a conference in the US to operate.
Dr Margarita Burmester, paediatric intensive care consultant, said: “The teamwork was fantastic. Chloe undoubtedly owes her life to that teamwork,”.
Chloe’s mother, Fabienne Narbonne, said: “How they saved Chloe should be recognised for what it is – a miracle. Without the artificial heart she would be dead. It kept her alive for those crucial few weeks. By the time she got it she had run out of options.”
Chloe said: “They’ve been so wonderful, you can’t thank them enough, I love it when I go back to the hospitals and see everyone.”
Fabienne added: “We owe eternal thanks to the organ donors and their families. We cannot thank them enough for offering Chloe a second chance at life, no words can explain how it feels and we have nothing but respect and gratitude for their gift of life.”
Read the Guardian news story and watch a video with Chloe, Fabienne and Mr Simon
Read the full length Guardian feature