Surgeons at Great Ormond Street Hospital have saved a month-old baby's life - by freezing her to death for twenty minutes.
Samaa Zohir was born with the blood vessels to her heart connected the wrong way round, and without surgery, would have died.
In order to work on her tiny heart - which was described as being smaller than a golf ball - the medical team put Samaa into 'suspended animation' for twenty minutes.
Connecting the tiny tot to a heart-lung transplant machine, the team surrounded her head with bags of ice, reducing her temperature from 37c to 18c to cool her blood. Once she had grown cold to the touch, they switched off the machine, leaving her clinically dead and her body almost drained of blood. They then carried out the surgery to repair her heart.
After 23 minutes, doctors switched the heart-lung machine back on and pumped warm blood through Samaa's body - her heart then began to beat unaided.
Surgeon Mr Hsia said: 'We needed to work in a bloodless field because we were doing micro-surgery, dealing with blood vessels as thin as rice paper and sutures as thin as a human hair. The only way was to chill the body and stop the circulation. The patient goes into deep hypothermia. It's like plunging the baby into a bucket of iced water. When you stop the heart they're clinically dead and I know I must operate with precision. There is no room for error. It's one shot and one shot only.'
Samaa's mother, Roosina Ahmed, 30, said: 'The first time Samaa opened her eyes after the surgery I was overwhelmed to see she was alive again. For more than 20 minutes she was on that operating table, freezing cold, a body with no life, and they brought her back to us. She's gone from being a baby who was too tired to even cry to a healthy, lively girl who enjoys her food and loves playing with her toys. It's amazing.'
Samaa's condition affects fewer than 40 children a year in the UK. Without surgery, it is fatal. Her mother, a Metropolitan Police constable, became concerned for her daughter's health when she repeatedly became too tired to feed. A GP initially diagnosed mild colic, but an unconvinced Ms Ahmed took Samaa to hospital where a scan showed the blood vessels that should have brought oxygenated blood from the lungs to the left side of her heart were connected to the right.
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