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February 23, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Tiny infant given new chance at life Tiny infant given new chance at life (February 23, 2005)

Baby survives heart procedure after given 'zero chance' to live

by Sue Dremann

A premature infant given "zero chance" to live survived open heart surgery at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, making him the smallest baby to ever live through such a procedure.

Jerrick De Leon, a 1-week-old who weighs just 1.5 pounds, required the surgery because of a congential heart condition. The infant, whose heart is the size of a small grape, spent six hours on the operating table Feb. 6.

"For the last 12 to 14 years, we've been doing these kinds of surgeries on ... children," said V. Mohan Reddy, the Stanford pediatric cardiac surgeon who performed the procedure.

A press conference was held at the hospital on Feb. 17 to announce the procedure.

The baby's condition is known as "transposition of the great arteries." The aorta and pulmonary arteries, which carry the blood in and out of the heart, were in opposite positions; robbing Jerrick of oxygen, according to Reddy.

The heart abnormality affects 40 of every 100,000 live births. Babies with the condition die unless they receive surgery.

The surgery, called an arterial switch procedure, is usually performed on children who weigh 2,000 grams, Reddy said. Jerrick was born 13 weeks early and weighed only 700 grams, complicating his chances for survival.

Jerrick's body is under a foot long. His chest is the length of a man's index finger, and the incision is roughly as long as the first digit of a finger.

"Babies this premature are very small and very fragile, with extremely delicate tissue. The babies are so tiny, any movement you do is drastically cruel for a baby this size. Everything must be scaled down and be meticulous," Reddy said. "Normally, this procedure would take two to three hours, but in a baby this small, it took six."

Jerrick is doing better than expected, Reddy said. It's a sentiment that sums up his entire existence.

His mother, Maria Lourdes, refused to give up on Jerrick -- even after doctors at Kaiser Sunset Hospital in Los Angeles said he had a zero chance to live. A pediatrician, the 44-year-old Lourdes suffered from pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening condition causing a precipitous spike in blood pressure. To protect her life, doctors performed a Caesarian section on Jan. 30 to deliver Jerrick at only 26.5 weeks gestation.

Lourdes was bedridden when doctors told her about Jerrick's condition. Being a pediatrician was more a curse than a blessing: she knew the significance of the prognosis:

"I wished to God I didn't understand what they were talking about," she said at yesterday's press conference at Lucile Packard Hospital.

Doctors said Jerrick was too small for the surgery. "I was doing a lot of blocking. I refused to accept that diagnosis," Lourdes said.

So she prayed Jerrick would stay alive and gain enough weight for the surgery.

She didn't have too wait long. A day and a half later, Kaiser told Lourdes that Reddy was willing and able to perform the delicate surgery.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at

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