Two-pound-baby defies the odds; undergoes groundbreaking surgery at Devos Children’s Hospital

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Alexandria Mae Van Kirk has a few nicknames, one of those is Sasha.

But her parents, Matt and Heidi Van Kirk, said no name fits her better than ‘Mighty Girl’.

“We just call her our mighty girl because she is so mighty,” said her mother.

When Heidi was 22 weeks pregnant she noticed her child wasn’t growing as much as doctors had hoped.

“She really only had a 35-percent chance to make it to a life birth,” Matt said.

Sasha was born on July 7th and weighed just two-pounds-three-ounces, reaching the first of what would be many milestones.

“She let loose,” Heidi said describing the sound of hearing Sasha cry for the first time.  “It sounded like a little bird just screaming.  I think it was a relief to hear that because we didn’t expect to hear her vocally.”

But at just one-and-a-half weeks old, Sasha had her first surgery for an intestinal problem.  Less than a week after that, a major heart procedure.

“Her pulmonary value was basically stuck, didn’t open and close well,” said Dr. Jeff Schneider.

A team of doctors that included Dr. Schneider, a pediatric cardiologist, as well as Dr. Joesph Vettukattil, who performed the pulmonary balloon valvuloplasty on Sasha, talked about performing what would be a routine procedure on a full term baby, but one that had never been done to a child of Sasha’s weight.

“Dr. Vettukattil said I think I can do it,” said Dr. Schneider.  “Although he made it clear that he had never done it on a baby nearly this small.”

The procedure required threading a tube into her heart with a balloon attached to the end of it.  That balloon is no bigger than a few millimeters.

“The balloon is then positioned across the stuck valve and then inflated to make the valve open,” said Dr. Schneider.

The procedure took 45 minutes, working on a heart smaller than a grape.

“We knew every possibility and just prayed for the best one, which we got,” Heidi said.

The possibility that allows them to now hold their daughter any time they want.

“Her will is strong and that makes a huge difference,” said Matt.

The family said they hope to bring Sasha home by September.

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