Child heart transplant success | Western Cape Government



Child heart transplant success

19 April 2021

A team from Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH) and Groote Schuur Hospital have given a child a new lease on life through a heart transplant, the first one in 13 years at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

Parusia Muhigirwa (13) received this life changing surgery in February this year and is still going strong. She wants to give back by becoming a doctor when she grows up.

There are many reasons why children of all ages develop end-stage heart failure, when their hearts are no longer able to support normal everyday functioning. The most common reason is due to failure of the heart’s muscle - called a cardiomyopathy – of which there are several types where the heart muscle is simply no longer able to function.

Parusia had a version called dilated cardiomyopathy.  This is where the heart muscle became incredibly weak, floppy and big (dilated). This is most often due to a viral infection attacking the heart muscle but very often we do not know the cause.

“Some children may be born with abnormal heart structures, congenital heart disease, and although we are able to operate on many of these lesions, some are no longer able to be repaired or develop complications and when there is additional muscle pump failure, sometimes the only option is also to offer a heart transplant,” says Prof Liesl Zühlke, paediatric cardiologist at Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

It is a long road to travel prior to getting a transplant even after the decision that it is the next option to offer.  

“We spend a long time preparing children with these conditions for a heart transplant and it is a careful and considered joint decision between family, child and team. Offering a cardiac transplant service for children builds up the entire team and ensures that we are able to offer children with heart failure a new lease on life and has great impact on the entire service,” says Prof Zühlke.

Prof Mignon McCulloch heads up the paediatric Transplantation Service at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

“Immunosuppression is a challenge, especially with children and in the time of COVID. It’s a fine line that we need to balance to ensure that we give the patient the best chances,” Prof McCulloch says.  

The follow-up process entails regular, monthly, check-ups including echo-cardiograms, blood tests, an array of assessments and careful monitoring of the immunosuppression.  The transplant teams from Groote Schuur and Red Cross Children’s Hospital work closely together to ensure that everyone is on the same page when patients transition to the adult services.

“We are excited to be able to re-invigorate our heart transplantation service and believe that many more young patients like Parusia, and their families, can benefit from it,” says Dr Anita Parbhoo, Acting CEO of the RCWMCH.

For more information on organ donation visit

Media Enquiries: 

Dwayne Evans
Principal Communications Officer
Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital
Mobile: 072 236 8658