Tiny baby undergoes rare heart surgery, prognosis great for “Mighty Girl”

Mom hopes she will ‘grow into whatever God has for her’

By Dave Andrusko

Alexandra Mae Van Kirk

Alexandra Mae Van Kirk

Editor’s note. This first ran last summer.

Talk about beating the odds! First, the parents of Alexandra Mae Van Kirk, also known as “Mighty Girl,” find that at 22 weeks their unborn baby girl is not developing as she should. As the months roll by, the prognosis grows worse and worse.

“They gave her 35 percent chance of making it to a live birth,” her mother Heidi Van Kirk told Michigan Live news. A little over a month ago—at Alexandra’s 32-week check up—doctors quickly counsel an emergency Cesarean Section:

Alexandra’s growth was below 1 percentile!

But Alexandra (nicknamed Sasha) made it, weighing in at 2 pounds, 3 ounces. And she came out yelling.

“She had us all very, very happy when she came out screaming,” Heidi told reporter Sue Thoms.

But Sasha was diagnosed with a narrowed artery– pulmonary stenosis. Obviously doctors would have preferred to wait before performing heart surgery on a tiny, tiny baby, but they had no choice.

Sasha also had Hirschsprung’s disease, “a condition that causes missing nerve cells in part of the colon,” according to Thoms. That problem was addressed for now on July 18 (Alexandra will have further surgery when she is older), but her blood oxygen levels did not go up.

Fortunately, Dr. Joseph Vettukattil, an internationally known children’s heart specialist, had been recruited from England a year ago to serve as chief of pediatric cardiology at DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has performed over 300 pulmonary balloon valvuloplasty procedures in the last two decades.

But that didn’t mean the July 23 surgery wasn’t “tricky.” Dr. Vettukattil’s tiniest patient on whom he had performed the surgery on was four pounds.

As Thoms explained of Alexandra’s walnut-sized heart:

“In that tiny heart are four chambers. And in one of those chambers lay a thickened valve that pinched an artery, forcing the heart to work extra hard to pump blood to the lungs.

“Vettukattil’s mission was to thread a catheter with an inflatable balloon into the slender artery and expand the balloon, widening the opening so blood could flow through easily.”

But the operation was a complete success! And if she like most babies who undergo at a valvuloplasty procedure, she shouldn’t need any further treatment.

“She’s cured. As far as her heart goes, she should be fine for the rest of her life,” Dr. Vettukattil told Thoms.

“There is a sense of relief that is almost unexplainable,” Heidi said. “She’s doing fantastic,” her father, Matt Van Kirk told the Grand Rapids Press.

Here’s how Thom’s ends her wonderful story:

“Her parents are looking forward to the day Alexandra can come home from the hospital. They picture her playing with her big sister, 17-month-old Josephine. And they hope she will ‘grow into whatever God has for her,’ Heidi said.”

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