A baby boy has been given a heart valve taken from a cow in a life-saving operation. Bradley Harrison was in surgery for nine hours, during which his heart was stopped for six hours. His mum said she felt ‘sick’ when she first heard he needed part of the cow’s heart, but is now overjoyed that he is doing well. Amber Griffiths said she was offered an abortion at 24 weeks pregnant when doctors diagnosed him with five heart defects that meant he might not have survived the pregnancy.
She refused, and his life was saved with the bovine transplant when he was five-and-a-half months old. Now ten months, he has recovered well and is thought to be one of only a small number of babies given the pioneering treatment on the NHS.
He was able to enjoy his first Christmas and New Year with brothers Riley, three, and Lucas, two. Amber, 24, said: ‘At first I felt sick hearing that Bradley was going to have part of an animal put in him, but his chances of survival with the calf valve were high and it ended up saving his life. ‘We are all over the moon that he’s now doing so well.’ Amber and fiance Ryan Harrison, 24, were stunned to discover that they were expecting a third baby in June 2018. It was during her routine 20-week scan that Amber was told the baby had congenital heart disease.
She was given the devastating news that he had pulmonary atresia – where the pulmonary valve, which regulates blood flow from the right ventricle to the lungs, does not form properly. ‘I knew something was wrong, I could feel it,’ Amber said. ‘The sonographer wouldn’t look at me in the face. ‘They told me there was a risk he wouldn’t make it to the end of the pregnancy, I could go into preterm labour and that he won’t breathe when he’s born.’ The mum-of-three decided to keep her son, even though her pregnancy left her bed bound and unable to look after her other boys. She also had a traumatic labour on Valentine’s Day after her placenta failed, which lead to her being put under anesthesia while Bradley was delivered via emergency C-Section.
After Bradley was born weighing 6lbs 2oz at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne, he was immediately taken to Freeman Hospital where Amber rushed to his side when she was discharged after 24 hours. Bradley was given a CT scan not long after birth where his parents were also told he had the heart condition Tetralogy of Fallot – four defects which limit the amount of oxygen carried by the blood. Following a heart and lung reconstruction nine days after he was born, Amber and Ryan thought their son’s health problems were over. He needed a new heart valve and was fitted with a plastic one. But despite the nine-hour op, the little boy’s issues had only just begun. Four months after his first operation, Amber panicked when Bradley started to turn blue when he cried.
Amber, of South Shields, said: ‘We rushed him to hospital, where they said his heart was starving his lungs of oxygen.’ The miracle baby underwent open heart surgery when he was five and a half months old, and had the life-saving bovine transplant, which saw tissue taken from a calf and used to repair Bradley’s valve. His heart was stopped for six hours while doctors operated and he needed four pints of blood. Bradley has been left with a large, vertical scar running down the centre of his chest from his open heart surgery. Amber said: ‘Bradley has been through so much in his life already. He’s such a fighter, there was no question about me not continuing with the pregnancy, I knew he would survive.” He already has his next open heart surgery planned for when he is two and a half years old, as his artificial valve needs to be replaced as he grows.