A Portadown baby girl, whose parents were told she would die without a heart transplant, is thriving after receiving a donor organ.
Little Ruby Callaghan (14 months) was born on July 2 last year and survived three cardiac arrests before undergoing the successful operation in October in Newcastle upon Tyne. Ruby, the daughter of Jo-Ann McCullough and John Callaghan, was born blue with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.
At first, the doctors assumed she simply required some additional treatment.
But a day later she was struggling to breathe and wasn’t moving or crying. After countless tests and transferral from Craigavon Hospital to Belfast Royal Hospital, Ruby was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, which meant her heart was three times bigger than normal and couldn’t pump blood efficiently.
Said Jo-Ann, “I was completely shocked when they told me there wasn’t a treatment they could give to cure her. We had to wait for Ruby’s heart to fix itself or she would die.”
Although Ruby made a slight improvement, she quickly went downhill again as her heart began to fail.
“It became clear that our brave baby couldn’t fix her heart herself,” said Jo-Ann. “She needed help and what she needed was a new heart. Without a transplant we would have to let her go.
“My partner John and I decided that we wanted Ruby to keep fighting. She was quickly put on the transplant list but her condition got worse, to the point she had to be paralysed to stop her heart from working too hard.
“This meant that we were no longer able to touch our baby daughter, and at one point we weren’t even able to talk to her, as this excited her too much and tired her out. It was heartbreaking.”
In the space of two months Ruby suffered three cardiac arrests, and just as the couple began to think it was kinder to let her go, a bed finally became available at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Once there, she was fitted with a Berlin Heart device, which pumped her blood until a transplant organ became available.
It took 76 days for Ruby to receive a new heart and during that time, Jo-Ann and John, along with older daughter Lil-May were relieved and grateful to be offered free ‘home from home’ accommodation at The Sick Children’s Trust’s Scott House, just a few minutes’ walk away from the hospital.
Said Jo-Ann, “When Ruby got a new heart the main thing I noticed was how much she was moving. Beforehand she had been completely still, and now she was moving her arms as if she was trying to reach the ceilings.
“Her lips had also changed to a bright ruby red. She looked so lovely and beautiful, like a doll freshly painted. For the first time in her life she looked healthy.
“She is great now. More and more medical aids are being removed from her. We have been told she is no longer at risk of heart failure.”