Baby Born With Heart Outside Her Body Defies Odds to Survive Risky Surgeries


*Warning. This post contains graphic images*

She’s the tiny bub with the perfect name. Vanellope Hope Wilkens was born with her heart outside her chest. And she’s proving that, even when the odds are against you, there is always hope.

One in 100 children are born with a congenital heart defect, but only one in 8 million are born with ectopia cordis and survival is rare. 

Only three weeks old, baby Vanellope Hope is making headlines around the world for her extremely rare heart condition and her exceptional fighter power.

The newborn from the UK was born with her heart outside her chest, a condition that comes with a less than 10% survival rate due to infection of the vital organ.

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Glenfield Hospital/University Hospitals of Leicester/NHS Trust

Despite the odds stacked against her, baby Vanellope survived her birth and three incredibly complicated surgeries to have her heart placed inside her chest, becoming the first person in the UK to do so.

‘No one believed she was going to make it’

The happy ending is one that no one, not even Vanellope’s parents, were expecting. At just 13 weeks pregnant, Vanellope’s mum, Naomi Findlay received the frightening news that her daughter’s heart and parts of her stomach were growing outside her body. The chances that bub would be born alive were incredibly slim.

However, Naomi and her partner, Dean Wilkins, were not ready to give up hope.

“We were advised to have a termination and that the chances of survival were next to none – no-one believed she was going to make it. Except us,” Dean said.

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Glenfield Hospital/University Hospitals of Leicester/NHS Trust

On Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, at 35-and-a-bit weeks pregnant, Naomi and Dean arrived at Glenfield Hospital in the UK to prepare to deliver their baby the following morning. Although trying to be remain optimistic, in truth they were expecting to say goodbye to their girl.

“I had prepared myself for the worst; that was my way of dealing with it,” Naomi said in a statement. “I had brought an outfit to hospital that she could wear if she died. I genuinely didn’t think my baby would survive.”

‘When she cried, we cried’

But survive she did. The little girl was born without a breastbone and with her heart completely outside her chest, a condition known as ectopia cordis. But she was alive.

“Both Naomi and I were holding our breath waiting for her to take her first breath; we didn’t dare breathe until she took her first breath,” Dean said.

“When she cried, we cried.  I felt hopeless and just held onto Naomi and was staring into her eyes praying that it was all going to be okay.”

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Glenfield Hospital/University Hospitals of Leicester/NHS Trust

Immediately after the birth, doctors wrapped Vanellope in a plastic bag to keep her organs sterile and away from infection. Less than an hour later, Vanellope was whisked away for her first surgery. A team of 50 anaesthetists, heart surgeons and paediatricians began the risky process of placing the little girl’s heart back in her chest.

Three weeks, three surgeries

It’s been three weeks since Vanellope first opened her eyes. Three weeks and three incredibly complicated surgeries later, the little girl is now on the road to recovery.

She remains at Glenfield Hospital today, surrounded by her loving parents and a team of doctors who have been nothing short of incredible.

“The moment she was born I realised that we had made the right decision,” Dean said. “All we have seen from the team at Glenfield is kindness and a desire to keep Naomi and Vanellope safe. I can’t begin to thank them for what they have done for my girls.”

Vanellope isn’t the only newborn to make us believe in miracles. Have a read of the world’s most premature baby, born at just 21 weeks gestation.

Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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