Houston surgeons save life of baby born with heart outside her body

November 21, 2012 (HOUSTON)

Teams of surgeons and specialists in Houston worked together to rebuild her chest and save her life. And now this will be a special Thanksgiving for the tiny baby's grateful mother.

Ashley Cardenas sees her newborn daughter for the first time after extraordinary surgery to put her baby's heart back inside her chest.

Little Audrina was born with a third of her heart lying on the baby's stomach, beating outside her body. It was a stunning thing to see, even for the heart surgeons there to repair it.

"It's like the heart was kinda pinched in the middle," said Dr. Charles Fraser, Texas Children's Hospital Surgeon-in-Chief.

This rare condition was picked up on an ultrasound and is usually fatal. But Ashley made the difficult decision to continue the pregnancy and pray for her baby's healing.

"I had to come with believing in him, believing in faith that there is a reason she is here," said Ashley.

In a six-hour surgery, Texas Children's Hospital heart surgeons and plastic surgeons reconstructed the baby's chest to make space for the heart inside, and gently stretched her skin to cover the hole.

"The baby probably will have to have other operations in the future. The sternum is about half-formed, but these are things we can deal with," said Dr. Fraser.

Now five weeks old, Audrina is doing well. She still has a hole in her heart, but doctors say it may heal on its own.

"They have no idea how thankful I am. If it wasn't for them as well as the grace of God she wouldn't be here," Ashley told us.

Now Audrina's heart is only covered with a muscle and skin. There's no bony sternum to protect it. So surgeons told us when she's a little older, they can build one for her by taking a rib, cutting it in half and putting half of it back into her rib cage. Then they can use the other half to make a breastbone for her and protect her repaired heart.

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