In good hands: Early Detection of Heart Problems in Utero Leads to Successful Treatment

Expectant parents Tena and Joe Crock were excited for the birth of their first child. Although Tena’s pregnancy began smoothly, that dramatically changed when the couple received unexpected news at the 20-week pregnancy ultrasound. Preliminary testing showed that the baby had congenital heart disease.

“We thought the biggest thing we would learn was the gender of our baby,” says Tena. “The doctors sent us to University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital for further testing. We were numb.”

The Kent, Ohio, residents drove directly to the hospital for an in-depth fetal ultrasound. During this highly specific test, they learned that the baby had a severe congenital heart defect and it was unclear whether the infant would live after birth.

“In that instant, everything changed,” says Tena. “We decided we would do anything to fight for this baby. We were hoping for any chance of survival.”

Testing provides hope

The Crocks were referred to James Strainic, MD, a pediatric cardiologist with a subspecialty in fetal echocardiography at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Strainic conducted a fetal echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to detect problems with the baby’s heart prior to birth. The baby had a congenital heart defect called a double inlet left ventricle (DILV), as well as dextrocardia, the development of the heart on the opposite side of the body. Dr. Strainic told them that the baby would require multiple heart surgeries after birth, but had an 80 to 90 percent chance of survival.

“My husband and I got in the car and just cried. The news was more than we could have hoped for,” remembers Tena. “We were so amazed that Dr. Strainic knew everything he did about our baby’s heart from testing in utero. It gave us confidence that everything was going to be okay.”

Seamless fetal heart care

Doctors at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital are experts in diagnosing structural fetal heart problems. They also identify the risk for functional heart problems related to disease and can diagnose and treat cardiac arrhythmias in unborn babies.

“In-utero testing and diagnosis are so important. The earlier heart problems are identified, there is a better chance we can prevent progression of their disorder and even death,” says Dr. Strainic.

Part of the program’s success is its close collaboration with UH MacDonald Women’s Hospital, where mothers with high-risk pregnancies can literally deliver steps away from world-renowned experts in neonatology, cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery and other pediatric specialties.

“Not only can our neonatal unit start treatment right away, but the close proximity is better for both mom and baby,” says Christopher Snyder, MD, Chief of Pediatric Cardiology at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

Preparing for birth

Dr. Strainic conducted regular echocardiograms to monitor the baby and prepare for treatment after birth. The visits also allowed the couple to get to know their child’s future medical team.

“In every way, we prepare parents for the birth of a baby with heart issues,” says Dr. Snyder. “Parents become very familiar with the doctors who will take care of their child so there is less stress when the baby is born.”

Tena delivered her son, Myles, at UH MacDonald Women’s Hospital. He was directly transferred to the Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, where they began medication to ensure proper blood flow to his lungs. Just days later, Myles had his first surgery, successfully performed under the leadership and advanced expertise of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery Chief Peter C. Kouretas, MD.

A happy life

Today, Myles is a happy, healthy 17-month-old who loves to dance and play. Although Myles requires more surgery, his development is on schedule.

“I cannot say enough about our team of doctors. They knew exactly what was going on with his heart before he was even born,” says Tena. “I am glad we had the best of the best.”

James Strainic

James Strainic, MD
Pediatric Cardiologist,
UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor,
Case Western Reserve University
School of Medicine

Christopher Snyder

Christopher Snyder, MD
Chief, Pediatric Cardiology,
UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Professor,
Case Western Reserve University
School of Medicine

Peter Kouretas

Peter C. Kouretas, MD
Chief, Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery
UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Associate Professor
Case Western Reserve University
School of Medicine

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