Afghan girl is doing well after heart surgery at UNC

Afghan girl is doing well after heart surgery at UNC
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Michael R. Mill, M.D.

Maryam, an 8-year-old girl from Afghanistan, underwent heart surgery at UNC Hospitals on Tuesday, July 9, and came through it well, her surgeon, Michael R. Mill, M.D., said. (Update: Maryam went home from the hospital to her host family's home in Raeford on Tuesday, July 16.)

Dr. Mill corrected a narrowing of Maryam's aorta (a surgical procedure called resection of coarctation of the aorta) and closed a fetal blood vessel, the ductus arteriosus, that had not closed normally when Maryam was a newborn (that surgery is called division of a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)).

"The procedure went well and she is doing fine postop," Dr. Mill said.

The ductus arteriosus is a vessel that allows blood to go around a baby's lungs before birth; after birth, it usually closes. If it does not, blood flows abnormally from the aorta to the pulmonary artery. Elman Frantz, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at UNC, had planned to close the PDA in a catheter procedure on July 3. Dr. Frantz suspected the narrowing of the aorta after seeing results of an echocardiogram; he confirmed it during the catheter procedure. Narrowing makes it difficult for blood to flow through the aorta, the main artery that leads out of the heart. Surgery was necessary to fix the coarctation and if Dr. Frantz had closed the PDA, it would have made the surgery more difficult. So, both problems were fixed during surgery, Dr. Mill said.

Children often have high blood pressure before the operation because of the narrowing of the aorta and they need medication for a few days to weeks after surgery until the body adjusts to not having the aortic obstruction, Dr. Mill said.

The usual hospital stay after the surgery is five to seven days. "The blood pressure control is often what dictates how long the children need to stay in hospital," Dr. Mill said.

Maryam
Maryam before her surgery (UNC Health Care photo)

Maryam was flown to the United States in June to receive treatment for heart problems at North Carolina Children's Hospital. Rita Bigham, a retired teacher from Chapel Hill and a UNC Hospitals volunteer, and her husband, Eric, worked with Solace for the Children, a nonprofit group based in Mooresville, N.C., to arrange Maryam's trip and treatment. Solace for the Children brings children from Afghanistan and other war-torn countries to the United States to live with host families and receive medical care. Maryam’s care is being covered by the Rita and Eric Bigham Cardiology Special Project Fund, which the Bighams established with the Medical Foundation of North Carolina. Maryam has been staying since June 21 with a host family, Ashley Lewis and her family, in Raeford, and also has been paired with a "heart sister," Hannah Saye, 6, of Pinehurst, who had surgery for a heart defect when she was a newborn. Dr. Mill also did Hannah's surgery.

Dr. Mill, a pediatric cardiac surgeon, came to UNC in 1988 to be director of the UNC Heart and Heart-Lung Transplant programs. He performed both the first heart-lung transplant and the first pediatric heart-lung transplant in North Carolina.

Dr. Mill helped the American Board of Thoracic Surgery develop the requirements for the first specialty certification in congenital cardiac surgery and in 2009 became one of the first physicians to earn that certification. He was chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery from 2000 to 2011 and has been director of the UNC cardiothoracic surgery residency program since 1998.

Dr. Mill earned an M.D. at the University of Colorado and did his residency in General Surgery there. He completed a residency in Thoracic Surgery and a fellowship in Heart and Heart-Lung Transplantation, both at Stanford University, where he trained with pioneering heart surgeon Norman Shumway.

Contact: Margaret Alford Cloud, UNC Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, mcloud@med.unc.edu