Boy Born With Heart Outside Body Defies Odds

During his initial 18 months of life, Christopher endured 15 surgeries, all of which were attempts to place his heart into the anatomically correct position. But each surgery posed a greater risk to the blood vessels, with the potential to dangerously restrict blood flow and cause the heart to stop beating. Doctors had no choice but to cover the heart with skin and let the chest cavity grow.

Christopher's small chest was also weak and unstable. He breathed with the help of a respirator because his lungs could not successfully function on their own. He was a medical rarity and, yet, despite all his complications, he was very much the apple of his mother's eye.

"I thought he was adorable," Teresa Wall said. "The tubes were in his nose so his face was all taped up, you really couldn't see him too much. But I only saw him. I blocked out the tubes and anything else that was going on."

Christopher quickly became a hospital favorite. Nurses said they strategically placed Christopher at the front of the beds so he could wave at visitors.

"He was Mr. Personality," said Janet Boyce, a nurse in charge of his care. "We always had him in an area, so he was the meeter and the greeter. He was very social."

Soaring Past Expectations, Christopher Leaves the Hospital

Throughout his three-year stay at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, his mother remained optimistic, shaking off the dark prognosis from doctors. Instead, Wall held onto an unwavering belief about her son's chances.

"I was never in doubt," she said. "Maybe it was a motherly instinct, but I just always knew Christopher would be OK."

In 1978, two days before his third birthday, Christopher was able to leave the hospital and go home for the first time.

"At that time he was still ... like an infant in a lot of ways." his mother said. "He was just so gentle, so it was really like bringing my baby home."

Still, doctors remained uncertain about his survival. At home, Christopher still required delicate round-the-clock medical care. His parents learned a host of emergency procedures, including CPR, just in case Christopher's respirator failed. They were also instructed to pound on their baby's back every four hours, 24 hours a day, just to keep his weak lungs clear.

To accommodate his weak lungs and protruding heart, doctors continued to try to build Christopher a breast bone in the next few years, but everything failed. In total, it took 21 surgeries but doctors successfully created the chest support needed for Christopher to become free from his respirator. At 6 years old, he underwent an operation that transplanted a portion of his hip bone into his chest to create a proper breast bone.

"It was sort of like finally ... finally," Wall said. "He just grew and progressed in leaps and bounds."

Because Christopher's delicate heart sat just beneath his skin, doctors fashioned a plastic breast plate out of the same material used for hockey masks, which he could wear under his clothes to protect his heart.

Christopher was able to live life like a normal kid, riding his first bike and playing sports such as karate and basketball. Teresa Wall made a point of letting her son take risks.

CLICK HERE to see photos of Christopher through the years.

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