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Baby Born with Heart Outside Her Chest Saved by Surgery

Photodisc/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- Five weeks ago, Audrina Cardenas was born with her heart outside her body. The condition is usually fatal. But Audrina has survived, and doctors are hopeful after they performed surgery to tuck her heart back where it belongs.

Audrina had a rare congenital malformation known as "ectopia cordis," where the heart is abnormally located either partially or totally outside the chest. Audrina was born on Oct. 15 with her heart exposed.

Eight babies out of every million are born with her condition and 90 percent of the eight are either stillborn or die within the first three days of life.

A statement by Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, where Audrina was born and operated on, said that on Oct. 16 "a multidisciplinary team of surgeons at Texas Children's saved Audrina's life during a miraculous six hour open-heart surgery where they reconstructed her chest cavity to make space for the one-third of her heart that was outside of her body.

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Audrina's mother, Ashley Cardenas of Odessa, Texas, told ABC News she learned of the baby's condition when she was 16 weeks pregnant.

"I was told that it is a very rare condition and that the survival rates are really low and that if she did survive they don't know what kind of life she will have," she said.

"They gave me the option to terminate the pregnancy, continue with the pregnancy and do something called comfort care at the time of delivery, where instead of doing anything painful to her or do surgery they let you spend as much time with her until she passes, or opt for a high-risk surgery to help repair the heart," said Cardenas.

Cardenas decided to carry on with the pregnancy despite low chances of Audrina's survival.

"As soon as I made my decision to continue with the pregnancy, the physicians in Midland referred me to Texas Children's Hospital where a team of miracle workers provided the specialized treatment and care my baby and I both needed," she said.

"This risky operation on such an uncommon condition required specialists from a variety of care teams including cardiovascular surgery, plastic surgery and general pediatric surgery," Dr. Charles D. Fraser, surgeon-in-chief at Texas Children's Hospital and professor of surgery and pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) told ABC News.

"I have only seen this condition a few times in my career and these are always very tricky cases; in fact, many of these babies do not survive ... Audrina is a true fighter and we are so excited that this was a good outcome," he said.

"She's a fortunate child to have gotten through difficult circumstances. She is a very strong baby and is also fortunate because her other systems are normal," said Dr. Fraser, who added that it was promising that she still is showing improvements.

"We're not definitive about her prognosis, but so far, so good. We are very optimistic about the long-term prognosis. The baby will probably have to have operations in the future. Her sternum is about half formed but these are things we can deal with," said Fraser.

"Despite Audrina's misplaced heart, she was born with no other syndromes or genetic conditions that would cause additional stress or complications on her heart," Dr. Carolyn Altman, a pediatric cardiologist at Texas Children's Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics at BCM, told ABC News.

Dr. Larry Hollier, chief of plastic surgery at Texas Children's, played a key role in the surgery. "After reducing the heart into the chest we needed to mobilize the surrounding soft skin tissue to cover the heart itself to get it back in," he said when explaining his part of the surgery.

Audrina is still at Texas Children's for an open-ended stay, said Dr. Fraser.

"It would be a great blessing if she can celebrate Christmas with all of us at home," said Audrina's mother. "I want to tell the team at the hospital, 'Thank you for everything.' If it wasn't for them and the grace of God she wouldn't be here," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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