Fourteen years after a risky operation to save the life of an infant suffering heart failure, a team of U.K. doctors is claiming success. Hannah Clark (now aged 16)—who as a baby had a donor heart grafted onto her own—has made a full recovery, three years after the transplanted organ was removed, the doctors claim in an article published online today by The Lancet.

The "full recovery" part comes from the fact that Clark no longer needs to take immunosuppression medication that caused her to suffer from a type of cancer called Epstein-Barr-virus-associated post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (EBV PTLD), report the authors, who include Victor Tsang, a pediatric cardiac surgery specialist, and Magdi Yacoub, a professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Imperial College London (both led the surgery in February 2006).

Clark's doctors walked a tightrope for several years: the immunosuppressant drugs needed to keep her body from rejecting the donor heart were also responsible for her PTLD. In the end, they decided to remove the donor heart so that immunosuppression could be stopped altogether.

Their success "shows that the heart can indeed repair itself if given the opportunity," Douglas Zipes, a past president of the American College of Cardiology, told the Huffington Post. Miguel Uva, chairman of the European Society of Cardiology's group on cardiovascular surgery, called Clark's case "a miracle," adding that it was rare for patients' hearts to simply get better on their own.

Hannah's father, Paul Clark, described to CNN the difficult decision the family had to make at the time: "If she'd never had it done, she wouldn't be here. "In the very beginning it was a 50/50 chance she wasn't going to make the operation. But in the next one it was even greater because it had never been done before. But we had to take that risk."

The Los Angeles Times has a diagram of how the two hearts functioned together.

Image © Tamara Murray