A Spanish couple in Madrid had hoped they would be able to meet their future son once they’d reached full-term pregnancy.
Their hopes were ultimately dashed as he died during childbirth but the day of delivery marked a milestone in Spanish medical history.
Doctors were able to extract a heart from the foetus to carry out a heart valve donation on another baby.
It is believed to be the first time in Spain that perinatal tissue is collected for transplantation.
The parents had earlier been told that the foetus had a genetic abnormality that caused malformations, and that it was unlikely it would survive.
The couple had agreed on the possibility, if it died, of donating its organs and tissues.
After attending to all the needs of the parents and the family, the surgical team at Madrid’s Gregorio Marañón Public Hospital carried out what is a complicated donation protocol.
Organ and tissue donations from newborn infants are known to be difficult due to the low infant mortality in Spain, as well as the “technical difficulties” of handling the immature organs of these newborn infants.
Although the foetus had a cardiac arrest during the birth, the valve tissue donation could be carried out within the time margin of viability.
‘Help parents with grief’
This advancement could open up new possibilities in the field of tissue donation.
“It is intended to publicise these donations in the perinatal-pediatric field and, thus, allow other couples in the future who experience a similar situation to be informed about this option,” the Municipality of Madrid wrote in a statement.
It added that it believes that “in many cases, it helps the parents to cope with their grief”.
“They [the parents] are very grateful for this donation that has given a very special meaning to the life of their baby, to the short life of their baby in utero,” said Dr Carmen Vinuela, an obstetrician at the Gregorio Marañón Public Hospital.
The team of professionals has emphasised “the moral strength and admirable generosity of parents”.
“These parents, in such a painful situation as the loss of a child or the knowledge of the future loss of a child, considered this option. They were the ones who took the initiative and gave it to us. I want to thank them very much,” said Dr Dorita Blanco, a neonatologist at Gregorio Marañón Public Hospital.
According to doctors at the hospital, the donated heart valves will be used to help another baby with heart disease.
“There are cases of children who do not need the transplantation of the whole heart of the whole organ, but their heart disease can be resolved with valve implantation only. These donations can resolve that,” said Braulio de la Calle, a transplant coordinator at Gregorio Marañón Public Hospital.
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Video editor • Roselyne Min