A Texas baby born with its heart on the outside of its body survived a risky surgery and now looks like she will thrive against nearly impossible odds.
The little girl's mom was told 16 weeks into her pregnancy that the fetus was developing a rare heart malformation that almost always proves fatal.
"I was devastated,” Ashley Cardenas said earlier on Today. “I didn’t really understand what they meant by her heart was on the outside of her body.”
Rather than terminate her pregnancy, Cardenas tried to beat the odds.
Her daughter, Audrina, was born with ectopia cordis, a condition in which all or part of the heart is outside of the chest - which required major surgery.
On Audrina’s second day of life, a team of 11 doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston spent six hours performing a life-saving, open-heart surgery.
That made room inside for the one-third of her heart that was outside.
“The actual chest cavity doesn’t form in its proper dimension, so you can’t just put the heart back in there and close the door,” said Dr. Charles Fraser.
Audrina beat long odds; her surgery was a success, and after many, many weeks in the hospital, Cardenas was finally able to hold her daughter.
“It’s amazing,” said Cardenas, who also has 6-year-old twins at home.
“I don’t even want to put her down. She looked like a normal baby.”
Now four months old, Audrina the fighter is filling her mom with joy.
“She’s just wonderful,” Cardenas says. “Just a wonderful little baby.”
Audrina is fragile, though. She was discharged on January 23 with a pink external shield over her heart, which sits just below the skin and is still vulnerable.
The little one is also on oxygen and a feeding tube, and requires around-the-clock care. Eventually, doctors will implant a permanent cover in her chest.
By the time Audrina is in school, she should be just like her friends.
Audrina’s condition is so unusual that it afflicts just eight out of 1 million babies - 90 percent of whom are stillborn or die within the first three days of life.
“It’s extremely rare,” Fraser said. “Most of those children just don’t live.”
Here's hoping this one keeps on beating those odds.