Alexandra Mae Van Kirk was born July 7 in Grand Rapids, Michigan but she was diagnosed with critical pulmonary stenosis and weighed 2 pounds three ounces. Now the tiny tot has become one of the world’s smallest to have heart surgery — and the good news is that it seems to have worked.
Alexandra successfully underwent pulmonary balloon valvuloplasty at DeVos Children’s Hospital and she is getting stronger every day.
A week later, Alexandra Mae Van Kirk is showing signs that her heart is working as it should, and she’s growing.
‘She’s doing fantastic,’ her father, Matt Van Kirk, told The Grand Rapids Press.
Dr. Joseph Vettukattil, who performed the pulmonary balloon valvuloplasty at DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, has done 300 such procedures over 20 years, but the smallest patient on which he performed it was 4 pounds.
The little girl only had a 35 percent chance of making it, and she could have become a victim of abortion if someone had suggested that her chances were too low. Instead, Mighty Girl and her parents proved their resilience.
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Heidi Van Kirk cooed and cuddled her daughter in the neonatal intensive care unit at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital on Wednesday, July 30. Alexandra snuggled against Mom’s arm, scrunched her face, stretched her legs and curled her hand into a fist.
Her miniature fist – about the size of a walnut – provides a clue to the difficulty of the procedure that saved Alexandra’s life.
Dr. Joseph Vettukattil, the pediatric cardiologist who performed the pulmonary balloon valvuloplasty, explains: Alexandra’s heart is about the size of that fist. In that tiny heart are four chambers. And in one of those chambers lay a thickened valve that pinched an artery, forcing the heart to work extra hard to pump blood to the lungs.
Vettukattil’s mission was to thread a catheter with an inflatable balloon into the slender artery and expand the balloon, widening the opening so blood could flow through easily.
An internationally known children’s heart specialist, he was recruited from England a year ago to serve as chief of pediatric cardiology at DeVos Children’s. He has done 300 pulmonary balloon valvuloplasties in the past 20 years.
But the smallest patient he ever performed it on was 4 pounds. And he has heard of only one or two other babies smaller than Alexandra who have undergone the procedure.
“It was very tricky,” he said.
Alexandra – nicknamed Sasha by her parents – has been a fighter from the beginning, even in the womb, moving and kicking with gusto.
The Van Kirks, who live in Grand Rapids, also have a 17-month-old daughter, Josephine. When Heidi was 22 weeks pregnant with Alexandra, an ultrasound showed the baby was small for her stage of gestation. In follow-up checks with fetal and maternal health specialists, the news was progressively worse. Alexandra slipped further down the growth track.“We have always referred to her as our Mighty Girl. We call her our Mighty, Feisty Girl now.” – Heidi Van Kirk
“They gave her 35 percent chance of making it to a live birth,” Heidi said.