Baby heart professor awarded prestigious international distinction for her outstanding work
Poland’s only perinatologist, a doctor who carries out complex heart operations on babies still in the womb, has been recognised with a prestigious international medical award for her outstanding work.
Warsaw-based Professor Marzena Dębska, who has carried out over 140 operations on babies in the womb diagnosed with complex heart defects received the 2022 Research “for her inspiring work on fetal cardiac interventions” from the Holm Schneider Foundation for Prenatal Therapy in Erlangen, Germany.
Awarded every two years, the award is given by an independent group of experts who assess and award the greatest achievements in prenatal therapy made by medical professionals from around the world.
The number of operations carried out by Professor Dębska and her team puts Poland in third position globally for the number and also effectiveness of prenatal operations.
With the hearts of babies in the womb around the size of a Polish 5 groszy piece or a UK one-pence piece, Professor Dębska’s work is highly complex.
She said: “The heart works all the time, we don’t stop it. We anesthetise the baby and mother. We find our way into the heart chamber, which is constantly contracting and the valve, which is narrowed, has a diameter of 2-3 millimetres.
“[Heart defects] are one of the most common causes of the deaths of newborns. It is a very serious defect, which until the 1980s, was 100 percent fatal.”
Despite the complexities, Dębska has been carrying out these types of operations for over 10 years and has received praise both from her colleagues and the parents of the babies she has helped to treat.
Małgorzata Kowal, mother to 7-month-old boy Jaś whose heart was operated on by Professor Dębska when she was in the 26th week of pregnancy after prenatal tests revealed a serious heart defect, said: “It’s a miracle what his heart looked like before and after the operation…at the moment he is a healthy child.
“What’s important is that the heart is functioning normally and that’s what we are most happy about.”
Professor Dębska also saved the life of Zuzia, whose fetal heart defect was a life sentence for her parents as a result of them living in Vietnam, where prenatal heart prenatal are not carried out.
As a result, Zuzia’s parents made the decision to travel to Poland to see Dębska, who was able to operate on her and give her a chance at having a normally functioning heart.
The girl’s father Piotr Frieske said: “At this moment, Zuza has a chance to have a two-chambered heart, and thanks to that, a happy life.”
Travelling to Germany to collect the award, Professor Dębska who set up and runs the Debski clinic in Warsaw said she hoped the award would lead to a collaboration between Poland and Germany in the field of prenatal therapy.