A boy born with a deadly heart condition has undergone a life-changing partial transplant, believed to be the world’s first, Duke Health announced. Now, more than four months after the surgery, Owen Monroe’s family and doctors say he has recovered well.
Owen was born in April 2022 at Duke University Hospital and was diagnosed with truncus arteriosus, meaning two of his heart’s main arteries were fused together, according to Duke Health. He also had a leak in one of his valves. Doctors told his parents Owen would need a transplant.
“I think once we were told the situation and that we didn’t have time to wait for a full heart — he was actually already in heart failure, almost right out of the gate,” his mother, Taylor Monroe, said in a video produced by Duke Health of the surgery on Owen. “There weren’t a lot of options, so it was basically, if something happened, we’d revive it and hope for the best.”
She said she and her husband Nick had a conversation about whether Owen’s goal was to be a donor for other newborns, calling it “probably the hardest conversation you can have as a parent.”
Dr. Joseph Turek, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at Duke University Hospital, said it usually takes about six months to find a heart for a child Owen’s age.
“Even though we signed him up for a normal heart transplant, we suspected we wouldn’t get that far,” he said.
Owen’s parents made the difficult decision for their baby to undergo a partial heart transplant from living tissue. Getting living valve tissue was critical — if Owen got non-living tissue, it wouldn’t grow with him, the doctor said. However, living tissue can grow with Owen and extend his lifespan.
“And for these kids, it’s important to have only one surgery, if at all possible,” Turek said. “It’s a lot on a family, it’s a lot on a child, to have one heart operation, let alone have multiple heart operations throughout your life.”
Still a newborn, Owen underwent the procedure. Doctors used tissue from a donor heart with strong valves but poor muscle condition, meaning it could not be used in a full transplant.
Owen’s transplant went “very well” and he was able to go home after just a few weeks, according to the doctor.
“Both of his valves, now four and a half months after his surgery, are growing,” he said. “They are fully competent. They don’t flow at all.”
And Owen doesn’t seem to have any negative side effects, Turek said.
Taylor called the operation “miraculous.”
“The fact that he’s not only okay but thriving really gives a lot of hope for future babies who have to go through this.” All of his doctors are more than thrilled with how he’s doing,” she said, adding that Owen is developing at the same rate as other babies his age.
“What’s particularly remarkable about this procedure is that not only is this innovation something that can extend children’s lives, but it uses a donated heart that would otherwise not be transplantable,” said Dr. Michael Carboni, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine and the Owen Pediatric Transplant Cardiologist.