A baby boy born with a lethal heart condition underwent a life-changing partial transplant, believed to be the first in the world, Duke Health reported. Now, more than four months since the operation, Owen Monroe’s family and doctors say he’s recovered well.
Owen was born in April 2022 at Duke University Hospital, and diagnosed with truncus arteriosus, which meant that two of his heart’s main arteries were fused together, according to Duke Health. He also had a leak in one of his valves. Doctors told his parents Owen would need a transplant.
“I think once we were told the situation, and that we didn’t have time to wait for a full heart — he was basically already in heart failure, pretty much right out the gate,” his mom, Tayler Monroe, said in a video made by Duke Health about Owen’s operation. “There wasn’t really many options, so it was basically like, if something happened, we would resuscitate him and hope for the best.”
She said she and her husband, Nick, had a conversation about whether Owen’s purpose was to be a donor for other newborns, calling it “probably the hardest conversation you can ever have as a parent.”
Dr. Joseph Turek, the chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at Duke University Hospital, said it typically takes about six months to find a heart for a child Owen’s age.
“Even though we had him listed for a normal heart transplant, we suspected we weren’t gonna make it that far,” he said.
Owen’s parents made the tough decision for their baby to undergo a living-tissue partial heart transplant. Getting living valve tissue was critical — if Owen were to receive non-living tissue, it would not grow with him, the doctor said. The living tissue, however, could grow with Owen, and extend his life expectancy.
“And it’s important for these kids to only have one operation, if at all possible,” Turek said. “It’s a lot on a family, it’s a lot on a child, to have one heart surgery, let alone to have multiple heart surgeries over a lifespan.”
Still a newborn, Owen underwent the procedure. Doctors used tissue from a donor heart with strong valves but poor muscle condition, meaning it could not be used in a full transplant.
Owen’s transplant went “very well” and he was able to go home in just a few weeks, according to the doctor.
“Both of his valves, now four-and-a-half months after his operation, are growing,” he said. “They’re fully competent. They don’t leak at all.”
And Owen doesn’t appear to be having any negative side effects, Turek said.
Tayler called the operation “miraculous.”
“The fact that not only he’s OK, but he’s thriving, really gives a lot of hope for future babies that have to go through this. All of his doctors are beyond thrilled with how he’s doing,” she said, adding that Owen is developing at the same rate as other babies his age.
“What’s particularly remarkable about this procedure, is that not only is this innovation something that can extend the lives of children, but it makes use of a donated heart that would otherwise not be transplantable,” said Dr. Michael Carboni, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine, and Owen’s pediatric transplant cardiologist.