Caring for the Smallest of Hearts
Natalie Clark was ecstatic to discover she was expecting her third child, and it started out like any other normal pregnancy. When she received her first trimester sonogram at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, her 12 week scan turned out fine. At 20 weeks, however, her scan revealed that the baby may be showing symptoms of a fetal heart condition. Doctors weren’t sure if it was TGA – the transposition of the great arteries – or double (outlet) right ventricle. Two days later, she arrived at Saint Joseph’s Medical Center for a second opinion. At that point, she was referred to the Fetal Heart Program at the Center for Advanced Fetal Care – a world-renowned center for maternal fetal medicine located at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).
The thought of a fetal heart condition was initially overwhelming. Natalie began researching her options and talking to other women who had faced this diagnosed during pregnancy. From the minute she called UMMC to schedule her appointment, she knew she made the right decision on where to go for care. “The staff was highly responsive and just ‘ran with it’ from day one,” says Natalie.
A few days later, she met with Dr. Shifa Turan, the Director of the Fetal Heart Program at the Center for Advanced Fetal Care. Dr. Turan confirmed that Natalie’s baby had TGA and immediately developed a comprehensive, personalized plan of care. “TGA can be a complex diagnosis that requires specialized attention. Fortunately, our center is uniquely positioned take on this kind of case because of our expertise in fetal heart conditions and the broad, multi-disciplinary team of specialists we have at the University of Maryland,” explains Dr. Turan.
Because of the care her baby would need after birth, the staff set up tours of labor and delivery, the NICU and PICU, arranged appointments with nutrition specialists, and made sure she met with the pediatric cardiac surgeons.
“I felt like I knew what was going to happen the entire time. There were no surprises,” says Natalie.
Coordinated Care and Communication Make All the Difference
When her son Lucas was finally born, he needed to have surgery when he was 4 days old to fix a coarctation of the aorta. Doctors then prepared to operate a second time when he was only 10 days old to address the TGA that Dr. Turan diagnosed months earlier.
Natalie was really glad she knew about the condition and the process beforehand and felt like she was well-prepped for this journey. “Dr. Sunjay Kaushal and Dr. Peter Gaskin were the pediatric surgeons who took over my son’s care once he was born. Dr. Kaushal was so personal and he did a great job explaining everything to us, even though Lucas’ case was really complex. It made me more relaxed and comforted to know everything that was going on. He gave us balanced information about the condition and recovery statistics,” says Clark.
Throughout the process, the entire team was really patient with her son. No matter whom she worked with – regardless of the unit or division – they were great to Natalie and her family.
“I had a really consistent experience with everyone. Staff members kept stopping by to check on us all the time. There was good communication throughout the entire process and there were a lot of medical staff involved with my son’s case,” Natalie shares. This was especially crucial for her because she has two other children at home, so she couldn’t be at the hospital all the time to watch over Lucas.
Natalie found that the staff was really good about calling her when she wasn’t there to keep her informed of her son’s condition, especially when he needed to be ventilated, calling her right away to let her know.
Overall, Lucas has quickly bounced back from his medical treatments. “By the time Lucas came home at 3 weeks old, he was on little to no pain medication. I couldn’t get over how quickly he was recovering. It’s amazing how strong babies really are,” she says. “Now we are focused on activities you look forward to with a newborn – including baths and tummy time.”