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Heart surgery on fetus performed for first time in Ohio

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Prenatal procedure gives unborn child a chance at life.

On February 22, a 29-week-old fetus became the first patient in Ohio to undergo a prenatal heart procedure.

Stephanie Hartman’s baby was given a grim prognosis after a heart defect called “left-heart syndrome” was detected. Only 10 percent of babies with this condition survive past six months. In this case, the fetus was already suffering from heart failure due to the additional complication of a leaky mitral valve.

While the procedure, called an aortic valvuloplasty, is usually performed after birth, doctors recommended operating in utero to increase the fetus’ chance of surviving birth and thriving afterwards.

“We wanted to do anything we could to help him,” Hartman, told The Columbus Dispatch. “Knowing how bad it was, I thought it pretty much was our only hope.”

The procedure involved inserting a tiny balloon into the aortic valve to allow the left ventricle to pump blood. Both mother and fetus received anesthesia before physicians inserted a needle through the mother’s abdomen into the uterus, and then into the left ventricle of the fetus’ heart. A balloon was then fed through the needle and then expanded to open the aortic valve.

Dr. Aimee Armstrong, director of cardiac catheterization and international therapies at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, called the procedure a success.

Armstrong told The Columbus Dispatch that the surgical team was in the fetal heart for about five minutes. All signs of heart failure disappeared as the valve opened, the left ventricle began to pump better, and the leaky mitral valve improved.

“There’s still a long road ahead,” Armstrong said. “But we hope that this gives him a better chance at surviving and being healthy and being more stable at birth.”

Stephanie Hartman’s baby is due on May 9.

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