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Calgary Baby Makes Medical History with Two-Part Heart Operation in Edmonton

* Watch the video interview of Dr. Mohammed Al Aklabi *

EDMONTON – Baby Isaac, cutest dude in the room, finally opens his eyes, fidgets and yawns, blissfully unaware he’s just made medical history.

The vertical scar on his tiny chest is fading rapidly, along with the big worries of his parents, Calgarians Matt and Shandra Tymchuk, who just can’t stop smiling at their wobbly four-month old.

In October, at the tender age of 16 days, Isaac became the first baby in Western Canada to receive a critical two-part heart operation at the Mazankowski Heart Institute’s new “hybrid” operating room.

The combined procedures — heart surgery and a specialized catheter technique on a weak left ventricle — improved the chances Isaac’s heart will be normal and avoided putting the newborn on an invasive heart-lung machine.

The dual-equipped operating room allows two different specialists to work on a patient at the same time. It just opened last spring.

“We’re really optimistic,” said Shandra, 31, adding she’s grateful for the wonderful treatment at the Mazankowski.

“This operating room made it possible. To think, a year ago, we would not have had this option.”

Truth be known, it’s the second time little Isaac has been at the cutting edge of medical care in Canada.

Shandra was 21 weeks pregnant when she found out in a routine ultrasound that her baby had a congenital heart defect with the left ventricle of his heart not growing.

She flew to Toronto for a very new procedure in utero to help save her baby’s heart. It was just the 13th time this procedure has been done in Canada.

About four months later, Isaac was born at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and days later he was whisked over to the Stollery Childrens Hospital next door to the Mazankowski centre at the University of Alberta Hospital.

Sandra and Matt knew their baby would need more help soon or he would risk losing half his heart. But they also knew full open-heart surgery would be very high risk for their newborn.

“We looked at all the options and we knew this one at the Mazankowski had the least risk and the best chance of a quick recovery,” said Matt Tymchuk, 32.

Cardiac surgeon Mohammed Al Aklabi opened his tiny chest and put small bands on the arteries to regulate the flow of blood out of the heart to the lungs.

Then Dr. Andrea Wan used a special technique to put a stent into the weakened left side of the heart.

“Thanks to the new operating room, we could eliminate the need to put a two-week- old boy on a heart-lung machine,” she said.

Al Aklabi said the surgery has another advantage. “It buys us time to see how Isaac’s heart will grow,” and determine what further repairs are needed.

In a few months, Baby Isaac will head back for more surgery, but he’ll be older and better able to tolerate the procedures.

The unique hybrid operating room was equipped by $6.6 million in donations from the community, said Joyce Law, who runs the University of Alberta Hospital Foundation. “Our donors in this community are very generous,” said Law.

They will all be pleased to see that “we are doing the most advanced procedures on adults and our smallest patients,” Law added.

Published January 23, 2015, Edmonton Journal