A heart transplant recipient gave birth to a baby for the first time in Korea, beating the norm that heart transplant survivors shun to conceive due to high chance of premature delivery and miscarriage.
Asan Medical Center said Lee Eun-jin, who received heart transplantation in March 2013, gave birth to a 2.98-kilogram baby boy on Jan. 9. Lee’s case was unprecedented in Korea.
There were liver transplant patients or kidney transplant survivors who gave birth, but it was rare that a heart transplant recipient tried to have a baby. Overseas studies have suggested that fetal congenital anomalies and spontaneous abortions were more likely to occur in pregnancy after a heart or lung transplantation. Even if fertile, most heart transplant patients do not try to conceive due to anxiety and fear.
However, Lee’s delivery confirmed a heart transplant recipient could give birth to a healthy baby if she carefully makes a pregnancy decision after the primary care doctor’s thorough assessment on the rejection of the transplanted organ, kidney and liver functions and drugs being taken, and if she receives steady care during pregnancy.
Lee was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, caused by cardiac muscle problems, 10 years ago at a provincial hospital. As the disorder worsened, she received a heart transplant surgery at Asan Medical Center in 2013.
After the surgery, Lee has kept working out and maintained a healthy lifestyle. After a wedding in 2016, she planned to conceive.
After getting pregnant in March 2017, Lee visited the hospital frequently to check her transplanted heart’s functions, rejection, hypertension, and diabetes.
Fortunately, she was able to control weight and medication during pregnancy. On Jan. 9, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, weighing 2.98 kilograms, with the help of obstetrics/gynecology professor Won Hye-seong.
“It is the first time in Korea that a heart transplant recipient gave birth, although there have been reports of births from liver transplant or kidney transplant patients," said Kim Jae-joong, a professor of Cardiac Internal Medicine Department of Asan Medical Center. "I am delighted that heart transplant patients with fertility will have new hope. I congratulate her and the baby.”
Ob/Gyn Professor Won said, "In an era of a low birth rate, it is good news that transplant patients with serious diseases are getting pregnant. But, due to the various risks associated with the use of medication, it is necessary to consult with the medical staff before the pregnancy. During pregnancy, the mother's strong will, combined with proper medical treatment, will make it possible to give birth to a healthy baby.”
The number of fertile heart transplant survivors is increasing every year, supported by growing adult heart transplants and the rising survival rate of pediatric cardiac transplantation.
In Korea, there have been 1,391 heart transplantations since 2000 when the Korean Network for Organ Sharing (KONOS) started operation. Thirty-two percent of cardiac transplant recipients were women, and approximately one-third of them were fertile.
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