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US specialists jet in to carry out pioneering heart surgery

A HEART procedure is to be carried out in Scotland for the first time ever after a charity inspired by a child whose life was transformed by the same operation flew a team of specialists across the Atlantic.

MIRACLE: Rebecca Gibson was born with Ebstein's anomaly but her life was transformed after she had pioneering surgery. Picture: Newsline Scotland
MIRACLE: Rebecca Gibson was born with Ebstein's anomaly but her life was transformed after she had pioneering surgery. Picture: Newsline Scotland

Dr Pedro del Nido, Chief of Cardiac Surgery at Boston Children's Hospital in America and a Professor of Child Surgery at the world-renowned Harvard Medical School, is due in Glasgow today.

He will carry out an operation on a child with Ebstein's anomaly, a potentially deadly condition, at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill tomorrow.

The three-person team, which also includes a critical-care doctor and a specialist nurse, will be observed by Scottish surgeons, meaning they will then be equipped to carry out the operation, known as the cone procedure, in future cases.

Their trip has been paid for by Rebecca's Rainbow Heart Ebstein's Anomaly Trust, which was established by the parents of Rebecca Gibson, an eight-year-old born with the condition who had to travel from Aberdeen to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for treatment three-and-a-half years ago.

Rebecca's quality of life was improved dramatically following the operation and the charity was set up so that other children in Scotland with Ebstein's anomaly could also benefit from the most advanced medical treatment.

Members of the American team are giving their time for free but expenses of around £10,000 which include flights, accommodation and General Medical Council registration are being paid by the charity, while staff at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde have helped organise the project.

Rebecca's mother, Jane Gibson, said: "The day we pushed her out of the Mayo Clinic it was like our daughter had been gifted back to us and handed a future.

"This is something that we felt very strongly should be available in Scotland, and there's no reason why it shouldn't. We had to fly 5000 miles which is stressful enough and when you're going through something as huge as that, it's much easier to have your family and friends around you.

"But the only reason this is happening is because of the generosity of other people and the guys at Yorkhill. We've had someone cycle across Vietnam, people running marathons, to raise money all because they heard Rebecca's story. It's a tremendous feeling that this is happening and such an advance for all Ebstein's patients in Scotland."

Ebstein's anomaly affects around one in 10,000 babies. A faulty valve in the heart means the flow of blood to the lungs is restricted, potentially leading to the heart swelling and fluid build-up in internal organs.

Symptoms vary depending on the severity of the condition, but it can cause severe fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling of the legs, a blue complexion and strokes. In the most serious cases babies do not survive, however, others can live symptom-free into old age.

While the condition cannot be cured, the cone procedure improves function of the faulty valve while causing less damage to muscle compared to less advanced operations.

The Rebecca's Rainbow Heart charity got its name after Rebecca said she had 'a rainbow in my heart' after noticing colours that appeared on a scan, representing abnormalities in the organ, before her treatment in America.

The charity has previously paid for a team of Scottish doctors to travel to The Mayo Clinic to observe specialists there.

Before the operation, Rebecca's energy levels fell to such an extent that her parents had to buy her an electric car so that she could join other children and play in the street. Now, a scooter is her preferred method of transport.Kenneth MacArthur, a paediatric cardiac surgeon at Yorkhill, will be one of the Scottish staff members to observe Dr del Nido's team. He said that around three children and three adults every year would be able to benefit from the cone procedure being offered in Scotland.

He said: "We have been able to operate on children with Ebstein's anomaly for many years but this new operation seems to give better results. Dr del Nido is one of the best paediatric heart surgeons in the world and is a specialist in this procedure so we're very fortunate.

"We'll be trying to get as much out of them as we can. What we're trying to do is start a programme in Scotland so these relationships with units around the world are very important to us."

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