LITTLE Joe Skerratt has undergone a successful heart transplant after being kept alive by an artificial organ for 251 days.
The toddler was attached to the machine, the size of a small chest fridge, for nine months while a donor heart was found for him.
He had been diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart is enlarged and weakened, shortly after birth.
Although his condition was inititally treated with medication, he deteriorated and his heart stopped three times as he was rushed to Great Ormond Street Hospital and placed on a machine that could take over from his weakened heart and lungs.
It was discovered that Joe had Barth syndrome, a condition linked to the x gene which causes muscle weakness, short stature and feeding problems and this had caused the weakening of his heart.
Once Joe's condition was stablised he was attached to the Berlin heart machine and remained on it for the next 251 days while the family waited for a donor heart.
The machine pumped the blood around his body, supporting the functioning of his own heart, but meant he was confined to hospital.
Six-year-old Alice Hipkiss, previously held the record for the longest time spent on a Berlin heart, when she used it for 228 days before her transplant in 2010.
Joe is now at home in Kent with big sister Harriet, seven and his parents Mark Skerratt, 42 and Rachel Farrow, 32, who have spoken for the first time since the transplant.
Mr Skerratt, a telecomms technician said: “It started one morning when he started making terrible noises. He wasn’t breathing right.
"He seemed cold. We took him to the local emergency doctors and they sent us straight up to the children’s ward where they took a chest x-ray and found his heart was all over his chest and he was in heart failure at three weeks old.”
Joe's parents feared he would not survive and had him christened but he recovered enough to leave the Evelina Children's Hospital in central London and was treated successfully with medication for a year.
But in December 2010 Joe began showing signs of heart failure, his heart had become further enlarged and was filling his chest. He was put on the waiting list for a transplant but deteriorated further and suffered two cardiac arrests.
The best chance of saving him was to transfer him to Great Ormond Street Hospital and put him onto an Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which could temporarily do the work of his heart and lungs to give them a rest.
Within half an hour Joe arrived at GOSH, where he suffered another cardiac arrest. Doctors were able to resuscitate him for a third time and he was placed onto the ECMO machine. The following day Joe was stable enough to be attached to a Berlin heart.
Ms Farrow, who is Joe's full-time carer, said: "Wherever Joe went the machine went too and it just became an extension of him. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to this huge piece of machinery; it's the size of a small fridge.
"When Joe passed the 200 day mark on the Berlin heart we started to really question what else could be done if a heart wasn’t found, but we knew deep down there wouldn’t be much.
“On day 251 the call we had been waiting for, came. We were offered a heart for Joe. The call came early in the morning and time seemed to stand still before he was taken down to theatre.
“Thankfully, Joe’s operation was successful. After transplant he spent four days on cardiac intensive care before he could have his chest closed safely. Seeing his new heart – a normal size and thumping away in his chest, was incredible. None of it would have been possible without the selfless generosity of the donor family."
Dr Giardini, consultant pediatric cardiologist at Great Ormond Streeet Hospital, said: “We are really delighted to see Joe doing so well and thriving at home. He spent a long time with us in hospital.
“Joe was very lucky to be able to have a heart transplant. There is a chronic shortage of donor organs for children in the UK and at any one time we have several children in the hospital awaiting a transplant. Lots of children wait years for an organ to become available and can very sadly die while they are doing so.”