Girl With Two Hearts Heals Spontaneously

Surgeons reversed a girl's heart transplant to save her from cancer.

ByABC News
July 14, 2009, 8:58 AM

July 14, 2009— -- A British teen who survived a dire heart condition as an infant, thanks to transplant surgery that gave her two hearts, has made a "magic" recovery, her doctor said.

A decade after her first heart transplant and years after surviving bouts of cancer, Hannah Clark's fledgling heart healed itself. Clark, 16, recovered so well, that doctors risked reversing her heart transplant in 2006 to save her from Epstein-Barr-virus-associated post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder. Her surgeons report today in the online version of the journal Lancet that Clark is living cancer-free with her original heart alone.

"The possibility of recovery of the heart is just like magic," said Dr. Sir Magdi Yacoub, who was the lead surgeon in Clark's first transplant.

"The heart, which was not contracting at all at the time, we put the new heart to be pumping next to it and take its work, now is functioning normally," said Yacoub, who worked with Dr. Victor Tsang to remove the same transplant 10 years later.

Clark quietly sat through a news conference Monday while tears welled in her eyes. But she had to leave the room at one point, as doctors discussed the years she lived on immunosuppressant drugs while fighting cancer.

Yacoub and leading cardiologists say Clark's remarkable recovery will influence future research into heart transplants and research for artificial hearts, which now help many people suffering from Clark's condition.

Clark of Cardiff Wales was 8 months old when she was rushed to Harefield Hospital in Middlesex, U.K., with heart failure from cardiomyopathy -- a condition marked by enlarged or inflamed heart tissue that can slow blood flow through the heart, cause blood clots and lead to heart failure.

At 11 months, Clark underwent a heart transplant to save her life. Yacoub grafted a donor heart onto the weak side of Clark's heart. By age 4, doctors noticed both hearts were functioning normally. Somehow, the extra help had allowed Clark's weakened heart to heal.