March 13 2014 at 07:38am By Barbara Maregele
Ester Arthur holds her two-month-old baby, Anne, in the maternity ward at Groote Schuur Hospital. Arthur was the first person to undergo a heart transplant in South Africa and later give birth. Photo: Courtney Africa
Cape Town – Ester Arthur, 28, thought it was a miracle when she got a suitable heart donor a year after she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.
Nearly seven years later, Arthur, of Mthatha, would experience another miracle.
Arthur has become the first woman in South Africa, who has undergone a heart transplant, who was also able to have a successful pregnancy despite the serious health risks.
She gave birth to her first child, Anne, born at 27 weeks.
Baby Anne is now two months old and is healthy and growing well in Groote Schuur Hospital’s maternity unit.
“This wasn’t planned so I took the pregnancy test twice to make sure,” said Arthur on Wednesday.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was so scared and shocked because after my transplant all the doctors warned me it would be dangerous.”
A second heart transplant patient from Bloemfontein has also since given birth.
On Wednesday, Arthur joined Maria Coughton, 67, and 20-year-old JP Rudolph who were the 500th and 501st heart transplant patients at Groote Schuur Hospital and UCT’s Cardiothoracic Division’s celebratory event.
When she was 19, a flu virus attacked her heart muscle, weakening it to such an extent that it could have resulted in sudden heart failure.
She said when she found out she was pregnant, the first thing her heart specialist did was take her off most of her medication.
Both her heart and the baby had to be monitored every two weeks. “Other than the fact that Anne was born early, I had a normal pregnancy. Just like most pregnant women, I had to rest. The only downfall is that I can’t breastfeed because I’m back on my meds.”
Two months into her pregnancy, she was forced to leave her husband Kingsley and 10-year-old stepson at home so she could receive treatment at the cardiac maternity clinic in Cape Town.
“I’ve been living with my aunt and her family since I got here. It’s very difficult for me and our family because my husband can’t always come down to see us. Anne is still in hospital so we may still have to live here for the next two months,” she said.
Arthur said she was grateful that she had had a healthy baby but would not risk having a second pregnancy.
Karen Silwa-Hahnle, a cardiologist at the clinic where Arthur was treated, said: “The heart generally gets weaker during pregnancy as more blood is being circulated. For Ester this is dangerous and the fact that her medication needed to be changed. It could’ve been a very life-threatening pregnancy.”