Heart defects are common – about 40,000 babies are born with them each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
About one in four of those infants will need to undergo surgery or a procedure before their first birthday.
That was the case for a baby girl from Ohio whose heart structure was more critical than most.
“When you’re told that your baby is sick, that’s the scariest moment of your whole life, especially being a first time mom,” said Megan Curtis, who found out in her third trimester of pregnancy that her daughter, Paisley, had severe heart defects.
“Paisley’s heart is double backwards and she doesn’t have the left side of her heart which is the powerhouse of the heart,” Curtis said.
Paisley had her first heart surgery at just six days old and then, about nine months later, became the youngest of six patients at Cleveland Clinic Children’s to undergo an innovative procedure.
Pieces of Paisley’s heart lining were used to rebuild the left side of her heart, and special connectors helped reroute blood supply to her lungs and body.
“We’re actually converting her into two pumping chambers, like normal people,” said Hani Najm, M.D., Chairman of Pediatric & Congenital Heart Surgery at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. “That is the concept that we think is very unique in Paisley’s heart.”
Also unique is the 3D heart – an exact replica of Paisley’s anatomy – that was used to plan each incision.
“We examined this 3D printed heart with our hands and we looked at the possibilities of how can we route this in a way that it functions as a normal heart,” said Dr. Najm.
Traditionally, this type of defect is repaired using the Fontan procedure, which is known to fail over time, often leading to multiple organ failure. But Dr. Najm’s approach is designed to avoid that complication and also allow children to be more active.
“The greatest advantage with this repair is that functional capacity, as in the ability to do exercise, will be much better,” said Dr. Najm.
As Paisley grows, the special connectors in her heart will need to be replaced with larger ones, but Dr. Najm said the replacement procedure is fairly routine and lower risk.
Paisley is now an energetic one-year-old. She’s working hard to catch up on developmental milestones – and her future is as bright as her smile.
“She’s always happy and smiling,” Curtis said. “She’s such a blessing and a little miracle and just it just radiates off of her.”