Riram, a 17-year-old teenage girl from the village of Merer, Israel, had suffered her entire life from a serious, life-threatening disease. During the past year and a half, she was forced to live at Sheba in order to survive. However, twice within the recent span of six weeks, Riram received truly heart-lifting news. First, she was awarded a portable artificial heart that enabled her to go home. Second, a healthy heart was donated and implanted in her young body.
As a result of a genetic problem, Riram endured acute pneumonia since she was a little girl. Gradually, this condition weakened her heart. A year and a half ago, her general health declined significantly, and she collapsed. She was transferred between different hospitals until she was admitted to Sheba, where she was connected to an artificial heart engineered from two electrical devices that replace the heart’s ventricles. From that point on, Sheba became Riram’s new home.
About a month ago, an advanced portable artificial heart system was brought from Germany to Israel especially for Riram. Thanks to this “heart in a suitcase,” she became mobile and was able to attend her older brother’s wedding, which was obviously a joyous highlight of the family event.
The artificial heart was provided for Riram in particular because Sheba’s doctors estimated that it would take a very long time to locate a suitable heart for her. In the meantime, they wanted her to be able to live at home, surrounded by her loving family and enjoying as high a quality of life as possible. But to everyone’s surprise and delight, Riram became a heart recipient much sooner than expected.
“Just before Yom Kippur, the doctors called from Sheba and said, ‘Come quickly with Riram, we may have a compatible heart for her,’” said Riram’s father, Gatas Muzalbet. “The surgery took place on the eve of Yom Kippur, lasting 12 hours from night to morning. When I saw my daughter afterwards, it was very exciting, I never dreamed the transplant would happen so fast! We don’t know the family that donated the heart, and we’re so happy and grateful for what Riram gained, but also filled with sorrow over the young donor who was killed.”
Riram, currently recovering in the intensive care unit at Sheba, added, “When they told me that I had a new heart, I started laughing and jumped out of my chair with excitement! Apparently God heard my prayers. I was scared before the implant surgery, but my father told me that God would be with me the whole time.”
Dr. Amir Vardi, Director of the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba, shared, “The main heroine of this story is Riram. It was unreasonable to keep her in the hospital for such a long time while she was waiting for a heart, especially since we didn’t know when and if a donor heart would come. That’s why we decided to connect her to the Berlin Heart mobile artificial system, which has backup systems and a durable battery. Then suddenly we got an urgent phone call from the transplant center – There’s a heart!
Timing is critical from the moment the heart is harvested until transplantation. I’ve been a surgeon for many years and witness to many dramas, but the moment you see an empty chest, transplant a healthy heart, and see it start to pump blood – it’s a very exciting moment.
Now, Riram is recovering nicely. She still has a way to go, but she’s getting out of bed, smiling, and slowly improving. A long list of people helped enable this exceptional process, including Sheba’s team of doctors and the wonderful family that decided to donate the heart of their loved one who they lost,” said Dr. Vardi.