“I was halfway through my pregnancy when my doctor told us ‘there’s a serious problem with your baby’s heart and there’s nothing we can do.’ I went home and cried for a long time. Then, I remembered an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Dr. Arizona Robbins and Dr. Andrew DeLuca performed an operation on a fetus while in the mother’s womb. This memory gave me hope there was someone, somewhere, who could help my baby.” At the time, Dr. Doaa and her family were living in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where a heart intervention in the womb wasn't something they knew possible. No one mentioned fetal pulmonary valvuloplasty, a procedure using ultrasound guidance and a catheter-based approach to open the valve using a tiny inflated balloon.
The Grey’s Anatomy episode sparked Dr. Doaa and her husband to explore their options. The search led them to Drs. James Strainic, Ellie Ragsdale, Aimee Armstrong and the fetal intervention team with The Congenital Heart Collaborative at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard back from Dr. Strainic right away. He asked for the echocardiogram to confirm the diagnosis of hypoplastic right heart syndrome. Then he said the most amazing words: ‘I can help your baby.’”
Time was of the essence. To be successful, the procedure needs to take place within a specific window of the pregnancy. With a toddler in tow, the family boarded a 22-hour flight from Dubai to Cleveland to save their unborn baby. Once at Rainbow, the fetal intervention team patiently waited two long days for baby to be in just the right position for a clear entry to her valve.
It worked! Dr. Doaa’s physicians back in Dubai were in disbelief. At their father’s suggestion, they named their daughter Nadine, which means ‘hope’ in French. Nadine was born in Dubai on March 4, 2019. “She’s not yet two years old and has already experienced four life-saving surgeries,” says Dr. Doaa. “Recently we received news Nadine needs to see her cardiologist just once per year for a regular check-up!” Dr. Doaa is sharing her story to bring awareness to the importance of fetal ultrasound and interventions. Because of Nadine, doctors in Dubai now advise families of their options, thanks to advancements in medicine and technology.
Pictured above is Dr. Strainic holding Nadine on the day they met, six months after she was born. Today, Nadine is an active toddler who loves music and dancing! Her family says they are forever grateful to the team at UH Rainbow for saving their daughter’s life.
The Congenital Heart Collaborative at UH Rainbow, in conjunction with UH MacDonald Women’s Hospital, is the only program in Ohio to offer this in utero procedure. Since 2017, the team has performed 10 fetal interventions.