By Boniswa Somana

A five-year-old boy from Newcastle  became the youngest patient in Africa to receive an artificial heart, according to the Maboneng Heart Institute, last Wednesday.

Sister Ina Kok, Mbali Mndebele with her son Mnitho and Sister Bulelwa Ntilashe

Mnotho Mndebele, who weighs only 17kg, is also one of the youngest and smallest patients in the world to have a heart ventricular assist device (HVAD) implanted. The operation took place a month ago at the institute, which was at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital.

“We fully expect him to be able to go to school and do everything a normal young boy would do.

“He suffered from dilated cardiomypathy and the condition results in the left ventricle of the heart becoming enlarged and weakened and unable to pump blood properly. The cause can often not be determined,” said Dr Viljee Jonker, a cardiothoracic surgeon, who led the implantation team.

Five-year-old Mnotho Mndebele headed home after receiving his implant about a month ago at and 10-year-old Philisande Dladla, who received two mechanical heart devices at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town last year

According to Jonker Mnotho, “he will have to carry a small external battery pack for his mechanical heart, either on a belt around his waist, or in a small backpack. The batteries will have to be recharged about every eight hours.”

In his case, they opted to use the HVAD as a bridge to a future heart transplant. In reality, it is a lifeline until such time as a matching donor heart can be found for him to undergo a biological heart transplant.

Mnotho had been on the heart transplant list, but unfortunately paediatric heart donations are rarely available. He had been in a critical condition in intensive care for four months before the operation.

“This is such a happy day for us and it is an incredible relief knowing that Mnotho has been given a second chance at life,” said his emotional mother Mbali Mndebele.

“The doctors fought for my son from the very beginning to make sure he would be able to undergo this surgery. I will never be able to thank them enough for giving me back my boy.”

Mndebele  thanked the surgical team and nursing staff, whose efforts have resulted in her son being granted the opportunity to learn and play like other children his age.

“I am incredibly grateful to the entire team but would like to thank Dr Viljee Jonker and Dr Greenwood Sinyangwe for going above and beyond to do everything they possibly could to save my son.

“It will also enable Mnotho to grow stronger and gain much-needed weight over the next few years, so that he will be healthy enough to undergo a heart transplant when a donor heart finally becomes available,” Jonker concluded. Netcare also said that Mndebele was the second child from  Newcastle  to undergo mechanical heart surgery, after 10-year-old Philisande Dladla, who received two mechanical heart devices at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town last year . The surgeries of the two boys has built a bond between their mothers, Mbali and Sindi, and has led to them forming a support group as they  both await the availability of a matching donor  heart to enable the respective surgical teams to proceed with what would prove vital transplant surgery for these two young boys.  The mechanical heart will help to restore normal blood flow by enabling the left-sided circulation of the heart to operate more effectively. According to the Organ Donor Foundation of South Africa, around 4,300 South Africans are waiting for organ and cornea transplants.

However, less than 0.2 percent of South Africans are registered organ donors, resulting in a dire shortage of organs available for transplant in South Africa.

The sad reality is that by registering as an organ donor you can save up to seven lives.