Helping a Heart 7,000 Miles from Home

Sarangoo Menjargal, an 11-year-old from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, was born with a congenital heart defect called an atrial septal defect (ASD). An ASD is a hole in the wall between the upper chambers of the heart, which can cause damage to the heart and lungs. According to the Texas Birth Defects registry, ASD is the most common birth defect found in children. Unfortunately for Menjargal, the resources to fix the defect in her home country were scarce.

Luckily, she was able to make a 7,000-mile journey across the world to have the operation done at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.

“It’s rare that children show any adverse effects caused by an ASD before their teenage years,” said Dr. John Breinholt, chief of pediatric cardiology at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “An ASD causes the heart to work harder, which could lead to heart failure as an adult. We were lucky that they found the defect in her heart, and we’re thankful that HeartGift was able to bring her here from Mongolia.”

HeartGift is an organization that provides the necessary funds, coordination of care and medical services for children with congtal heart disease living in countries where the specialized medical treatments are rare. Heartgift has now served more than 300 children and families from 34 different countries.

With the help of HeartGift and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, Menjargal had the surgery to fix her heart on June 28, 2017. Her care was made a reality through nearly $25,000 in donations.

“We are very grateful for everyone who was able to help her,” said Menjargal’s mother, Enkhtuya Menjargal. “She doesn’t have any pain and she is completely healthy now.”

“The generosity of the Houston community is amazing – providing medical partnerships, financial donations, a host home and volunteers to assist with translation,” said Rachael Wright, executive director of HeartGift.

It is recommended that ASDs of significant size be closed. Since ASDs rarely become problematic until late childhood or young adulthood, doctors usually recommend treatment when the child has grown enough to make the closure easy, but young enough that symptoms are limited and the psychological trauma is minimized. Most ASDs are closed between the ages of two and five years.

“Closure is very often performed through minimally invasive means,” said Dr. Breinholt. “A device is inserted into one of the large veins in the groin. A closure device is delivered in collapsed form through the veins to the site of the hole in the heart, which can then be expanded and placed into position to close the hole.”

Menjargal was up and walking around only days after the surgery. Her host father, Ben Wheeler, and his family were able to make Menjargal more comfortable during her recovery, before she returned home to Mongolia on July 9.

“It was an absolute pleasure to have Sarangoo and her family stay with us,” Wheeler said. “I speak a limited amount of Mongolian that I learned through my time on some mission trips. Having Sarangoo here provided an opportunity for my children to experience another culture, as well.”

To learn more about atrial septal defects, or to schedule an appointment, click here.

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