A Burmese patient born with a complex heart deformity that even walking a challenge has returned to everyday life and playing with friends after undergoing two surgeries at Seoul National University Hospital.
On the 13th, Seoul National University Hospital announced that they had successfully treated a child with congenital heart defects who had faced challenges getting treatment in Myanmar due to the local healthcare conditions and economic issues through two invitation surgeries in November 2019 and August 2023.
Sai Ko Ko, born in Myanmar in 2014, had a heart different from others. There was a hole in the wall separating his left and right ventricles (ventricular septal defect), and the pulmonary artery connecting the ventricle to the lungs was obstructed, depriving the lungs of blood flow from the heart. As a result, Sai Ko Ko's lungs had to rely on a narrow collateral vessel between the aorta and the pulmonary artery for blood supply. This posed a risk for hypoxia and heart failure, and made even slow walking strenuous and challenging. Multiple surgeries were necessary to treat Sai Ko Ko's heart, and if complications such as poorly developed vessels around the lungs occurred, the next stage of surgery might become unfeasible. Precise monitoring and planning were essential. However, due to local healthcare conditions and his family's financial situation, undergoing such surgeries was out of reach, leaving him to lead a challenging life.
At age five, thanks to missionary Jang Cheol-ho, Sai Ko Ko visited Korea in November 2019 through Seoul National University Hospital's foreign patient invitation surgery program. After arriving, he underwent surgery to connect a 6 mm artificial conduit from his aortic branch to his pulmonary artery to maintain blood flow. The surgery was performed by Professors Kim Woong-han of the Department of Pediatric Thoracic Surgery and Kim Gi-beom of Pediatrics, and was made possible with the support of various institutions, including the Seoul National University Hospital, Seoul Med School's Lee Jong-wook Global Medical Center, and NGO The Together Corporation.
The results were a success. Sai Ko Ko, now able to run robustly like other children, returned to Myanmar. However, as he was still growing, there remained tasks ahead. Monitoring his heart development was essential, and plans were made for subsequent surgery to establish a regular heart blood flow pattern passing through the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery to the lungs. But with the unexpected outbreak of COVID-19, possibilities for the anticipated 2022 follow-up surgery grew slim as the doctors lost track of Sai Ko Ko's heart condition. They could only hope there would be no complications. With the end of the pandemic and the resumption of air travel, Seoul National University Hospital invited Sai Ko Ko for the second surgery in August. After admission, a heart CT, echocardiography, and angiography showed his heart had grown well, and the surgery was performed on the 11th of last month. Through an incision between ribs on the right side of his chest, they blocked the unnecessary collateral vessel from the aorta. Then they connected a 20 mm artificial conduit with a valve between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery through a thoracic incision. They sealed the ventricular septal defect and reduced the size of the enlarged ascending aorta. On the third day post-surgery, Sai Ko Ko's recovery was so remarkable that he was transferred from the ICU to a general ward. After approximately a week of hospitalization, he was deemed fit for discharge on the 22nd, and has reclaimed his everyday life with family.
Professor Kim Woong-han said, “I'm glad we could give Sai Ko Ko the gift of a healthy life and bring hope to his family through the successful follow-up surgery. I want to thank all medical staff and affiliated organizations, including Seoul Med School, that collaborated closely over the past four years.”
Professor Kim Gi-beom said, “Though there were concerns about the time following the first surgery, due to the pandemic and local conditions in Myanmar, fortunately Sai Ko Ko remained stable, and treatment proceeded successfully. I hope he goes to school and plays joyfully with his friends."
Jang Jae-jun, the Director of Public Relations, stated, "Through this invitation surgery, we could contribute to the international community and achieve the core value of Seoul National University Hospital: dedication to humanity through top-tier medical services and community service. We wish Sai Ko Ko and his family happiness in the days ahead."