AS THEY proudly cuddle their beautiful little girl, they know she is only alive today thanks to a record-breaking operation carried out by specialists at Southampton’s threatened heart unit.

Weighing in at just 4lb 3oz and with a heart the size of a grape, Maria Anna Garbik needed a heart operation that nobody in the world had dared to carry out on a baby so small.

But Maria found herself in the safe hands of Dr Joseph Vettukattil and the world-class children’s heart surgery unit at Southampton General Hospital.

When Dr Vettukattil operated on four-day-old Maria, no one else in the world had ever burnt a hole in the heart valve of someone so small.

But such is the unit’s expertise in pioneering heart operations they were able to perform what is believed to be a world first, making Maria the smallest baby to have such an operation.

Her heart was so tiny that even a tiny mistake could have been fatal.

But within just 26 minutes, a specialist team led by consultant congenital cardiologist Dr Vettukattil, had defied the odds and saved Maria’s life.

Had she been born anywhere else, her parents Maggie and Andy might not be cuddling her today. But because of Southampton’s 40-year-history of excellence and innovation, they had the skill and confidence to attempt what others have never dared try.

Maria was born prematurely at 35 weeks with an extremely rare heart condition that meant there was no blood going to her lungs.

Dr Vettukattil said: “Technically I wasn’t worried because I have performed this operation eight times, and all were successful.

“But when you are dealing with such a tiny baby, there are more complications to be aware of. Just a millimetre either side would have perforated the heart.

“I have done my research and I cannot find anyone who has done this operation on a smaller baby, so it is most definitely one of the first cases in the world.”

After a month in hospital little Maria was able to go home to Portsmouth with her proud parents.

Mum Maggie said: “She is our very special girl. The doctors were amazing and the nurses were fantastic.

We are very grateful to them all.

“Hopefully she will not need another operation. We are so happy to have her home with us.”

Having witnessed for themselves the amazing work done by the team at Southampton, they fully back the Daily Echo’s Have a Heart Campaign, which has seen more than 110,000 people sign the petition to save the unit.

Despite being ranked the second best in the country our paediatric heart unit is under threat as health chiefs look to cut the UK’s 11 centres down to six or seven. If Southampton closed, families would be forced to get lifesaving treatment in London or Bristol.

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