“I just want to do normal things again, like play with my friends” wishes Silviu Lavrig (16 years) shortly before the operation last Friday morning. Silviu suffers from congenital aortic valve stenosis and associated severe heart failure. He underwent his first heart surgery at the age of 19 months. Today, almost 14 years later, he needs a new heart valve. In the past six months, his condition has deteriorated drastically, says his mother Elena, who was traveling with him for his transplantation: “He became much weaker. At last, he could only lie in bed.”
The demanding surgery presented a financial as well as a medical challenge. The family could not have afforded the surgery – and the local doctors lack clinical know-how and donor tissue. So kinderherzen was asked to help. Most recently, in May, a large team of specialists from Sana Cardiac Surgery Clinic was deployed for some surgeries in Romania. But this project was different: medical expertise as well as a suitable heart valve was needed. To organise this urgently needed transplant, kinderherzen approached the non-profit DGFG, which is the largest tissue donation network in Germany. The Sana Heart Surgery Clinic from Stuttgart also supports the DGFG in the donation of corneas, heart valves and blood vessels.
“It was immediately clear that we wanted to help this boy. It was an emergency. We put him on our waiting list and were quickly able to find a suitable donor tissue for him,” says Martin Börgel, managing director of DGFG. “kinderherzen is involved in Romania because there is a significant shortage of specialists there. Only 400 of the 1,500 children born with heart disease each year can be treated. Silviu could also have been transported to Germany for this transplantation, but we decided to help locally to enable the transfer of knowledge. kinderherzen is committed to sustainable humanitarian work in the countries of operation and to helping people help themselves,” says Bryan Kolarczyk, spokesman for kinderherzen. Together with two specialists from Sana Cardiac Surgery Clinic in Stuttgart, MD Vladimir Voth (senior physician and heart surgeon) and Pavel Heghi (cardio technician), clinic director Professor Victor Costache (Spitalul Sf. Constantin) performed a so-called Ross operation – a first in Brasov, according to Prof. Costache even in all of Romania.
After almost four and a half hours in the operating room came the first sigh of relief: the demanding transplantation was a success. Silviu was already conscious again the next morning. MD Voth expressed his confidence to mother and son: “They should not worry. In three months, he will be able to play soccer like he used to.”
Heghi and MD Voth carried out this mission on a voluntary basis during their vacation. For both this trip was a matter of heart in both senses. The Polisano Fundatia Foundation from Sibiu, founded by Prof. Costache, also provided support in organising the transplantation in Brasov: “There is no infrastructure for tissue donation and transplantation in Romania. With projects like this, we want to change that in the long term and continue to learn from our German colleagues,” affirmed Prof. Costache and expressed his gratitude on behalf of the entire team for the sacrificial help. The Sana Cardiac Surgery team and the DGFG now want to build on this success. “Without tissue donation, we would not be able to perform procedures such as the Ross operation, which is a great source of hope for young patients in particular – neither in Germany nor in Romania. Should we succeed, together with the DGFG, in further expanding heart valve donation, we could help even more patients,” says MD Voth.
The transplanted heart valve comes from post-mortem tissue donation. Heart valve donation is possible up to 36 hours after death. The collection and procurement were done by the DGFG in Germany. Unlike organs, tissues such as heart valves are not transplanted immediately, but are prepared in tissue banks, including the heart valve for Silviu. The transport of the tissue already started on last Thursday with the pickup from the heart valve bank of the DGFG in Kiel. From there it went via a courier to the Hamburg airport. Everything went according to plan and the operation could start on time on Friday noon in Brasov. Now the heart valve, donated by a deceased person in Germany, lives on in Silviu’s heart – beat for beat.