Blue baby from Iraq overcomes distance and COVID challenge to find treatment in Mumbai

Mumbai, October 16, 2020: A baby born in Iraq with a complex congenital heart disease overcame challenges of distance to reach Mumbai for a successful corrective heart surgery at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital. The month-old baby, born with a condition known as D-TGA or Dextro-Transposition of the Great Arteries was operated upon by a specialised paediatric cardiac surgery team led by Dr. Suresh Rao, Director, Children’s Heart Centre at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital. In D-TGA, the two main vessels of the heart, the aorta and pulmonary artery are switched from their normal positions and to correct the defect, an Arterial Switch Operation with Atrial Septal Defect (a hole in the wall of the heart) closure was performed. The baby has recovered well, with the happy parents looking forward to travel back home with their pink baby.


Dr. Suresh Rao, said, “It was a blue baby at birth, reports revealed a highly complex heart condition as the reason. Simply put, the blood supply to baby’s body was reversed, and without early corrective surgery, the condition that occurs in approximately 1 in 5000 live births, would have been fatal. In India, such surgeries in neonates and infants are common, and are carried out within 2 days to 2 weeks after birth. However, with the surgical expertise unavailable in Iraq, it was the fortuitous intervention by an Indian friend of the father that brought the baby to Kokilaben Hospital.”


The reports were sent to Dr. Suresh Rao and after review along with Dr. Snehal Kulkarni, Chief Paediatric Cardiologist, the family was advised that the baby needed to be operated upon as soon as possible. But there were challenges that had to be overcome. With the unpredictable situation and absence of international flights due to the COVID pandemic, travel to India was difficult. The newborn did not have a passport that was required for a medical visa. The Indian Embassy arranged the visa on compassionate grounds and the family left immediately for treatment to India.


Dr. Rao added, “A delay would result in changes making the heart unable to support circulation even after surgery. Fortunately for the baby, he could undergo a preliminary procedure called BAS (Balloon Atrial Septostomy), a stabilizing interventional cardiological procedure in a local hospital in Iraq. This increased the oxygen levels and helped prepare the baby for the flight to India.”


Getting a new passport, securing a medical visa from the local Indian embassy, as well as finally securing a seat on a flight to India were big challenges, but the family with their will and determination to treat their child overcame all the hurdles and reached Mumbai on 24 September 2020. There was another twist on their arrival in Mumbai. The baby’s mother tested positive for COVID and had to be quarantined. Fortunately, the baby and the father tested negative. However, the father also had to be isolated being a contact and the baby was kept under observation in the ICU, further delaying the procedure by a week.


Dr. Rao elaborated on the procedure, “Due to the delay, there was some regression in the left ventricle with its wall becoming thinner, putting the child at higher risk for complications after surgery and a prolonged ICU stay. We decided not to wait any longer. Taking all necessary precautions and preparations, we carried out the corrective surgery on 30th Sep. The arteries were correctly put back in position. The tricky part was that even the coronary artery of the heart had to be connected to the correct artery. The initial 48 hours were critical and we were prepared to support the baby by using ECMO (a kind of life support) if needed.  Fortunately the child had an uneventful post-operative recovery needing only medications and ICU care.”


Dr. Santosh Shetty, Executive Director & CEO at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital said, “These parents were presented with insurmountable odds despite which they came to KDAH all the way from Iraq with a lot of hope. We are glad that our specialised team of doctors were successfully able to deliver timely treatment to save their baby’s life. We are thankful to the Government Authorities for their assistance in helping the patient to come to India for treatment. KDAH is always committed to deliver healthcare to all those who need it even amidst the COVID pandemic.”

The father of the baby Tareq Thamer expressed his happiness, “Thank you, Kokilaben Hospital, for providing me the best services during our stay here. Everything from the moment we landed in India was well coordinated. Hospital services are very good. I particularly thank Dr. Suresh Rao for doing this complex surgery on my one month old baby which was not available in my country. I will continue to be in touch with Dr Rao even when we go back to Iraq.”

 The baby is well currently, and has been discharged from the hospital. The relieved parents are awaiting their departure home once the travel formalities are completed.