Categories: pre-natal testing

Prenatal diagnosis of heart defects leads to more happy outcomes


By Dave Andrusko


A tip of the hat to News 4 in Jackson, Florida and to the Miami Herald for wonderful accounts about Tina Morton and her now five-month-old daughter, Addison. Reporters Jodi Mohrmann and Howard Cohen used the Mortons’ experience to investigate the more and more common practice of detecting—and monitoring–heart problems in utero.

News 4’s Mohrmann explained that Tina, already the mother of a nearly two-year-old daughter, had gone in for a routine 20 week ultrasound to find out her baby’s sex.

“They started the scan,” she told Mohrmann, using a transducer. “They measured everything. Then they scanned over to where her heart was and everything got quiet.” The technician then call her doctor.

“She couldn’t tell me anything, legally, but as a mom you know,” Tina told the Herald’s Cohen. “I was listening to some of the terminology, and my husband looked at me and said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Something is wrong with her heart.’ ”

As a nurse Morton knew she would need a field echo ultrasound to check her little one’s heart. “She wound up with a team of cardiac doctors at the Heart Institute of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood [Florida],” Cohen reported. “Daughter Addison, now 5 months old and thriving, was born with a malfunctioning left ventricle, and underwent open heart surgery when she was 10 days old.”

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It is advances in early detection using echocardiography and treatment for children with heart disease that allows for happy outcomes like Addison’s.

“We now can actually look at the fetus heart rate as early as 12 weeks,” Dr. Kak-Chen Chan, chief of pediatric cardiology at DiMaggio’s Heart Institute, told Cohen. A baby’s heart at that stage is smaller than a nickel.

“We have certain screening views that allow technicians to get an idea, a landscape, [to tell] are we dealing with a fetal heart that is likely to be normal or abnormal.”

Problems like Addison’s are a “more common than most people realize,” Dr. John Rhodes Jr., director of cardiology at Miami Children’s Hospital, explained to Cohen. “[W]e know more about it, and have a better way of treating it. There are more therapies for children that otherwise wouldn’t have those options.”

For example, heart valves that can be implanted via a catheter, rather than through open-heart surgery, to treat patients with valve disorders.

“There is a lot of opportunity to do preventative care and do things in less-invasive ways,” Dr. Rhodes said.

“Before [Addison] was born we knew what was going on with the cardiac team,” Mrs. Morton said. “And my doctors all had meetings, so we had a course of action, so to speak. She was born and they were all ready to go.”

Mrs. Morton understands how fortunate it was that Addison’s problem was diagnosed early.

“She came out perfect and pink,” Morton told Cohen. “I would have gone home, been discharged with her, and she would have crashed at home had I not known because of them being so proactive doing this testing ahead of time. It takes an hour out of the time you’re pregnant.”

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