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Health Information Thrown a Curve

An expectant mother copes with the unexpected

Happy and pregnant, Yanitza Rivera arrived at her 20-week ultrasound appointment eagerly anticipating the answer to one question: Is it a boy or a girl?

Yanitza's elation, however, soon turned to panic. In the middle of her examination, the ultrasound technician unexpectedly left the room. "My heart just dropped," she says. "I knew something was wrong."

The technician returned with the doctor, who explained the problem: Her baby's heart rate was dangerously low, possibly due to a potentially fatal condition known as a complete heart block. This rare problem occurs when the heart's electrical system malfunctions, disrupting the heart's rhythms and its ability to pump blood effectively.

To ensure she and her baby received specialized medical attention, Yanitza's doctors referred her to the Rush Fetal and Neonatal Medicine Center, which brings together experts from different areas in health care to help families like Yanitza's.

Expertise brings reassurance

At the center, a team of specialists — including OB/GYNs, neonatologists, ultrasound specialists, social workers and a pediatric heart specialist — ordered additional tests, assessed the findings and confirmed a diagnosis of complete heart block. "They really knew what they were doing," Yanitza says. "I felt better just knowing that I was in good hands."

The team's treatment plan: intensive, weekly monitoring via ultrasound; medications designed to increase the baby's heart rate; and, once Yanitza gave birth, a surgical procedure to implant a pacemaker in the baby's heart to restore a healthy heart rhythm. "This kind of coordinated care was vital," says Jacques Abramowicz, MD, an ultrasound specialist and co-director of the center. "We had the baby's heart block to contend with as well as other complications that could have proved fatal."

A close watch, a proactive strategy

To put it simply, Yanitza faced a complicated pregnancy and her baby's survival was uncertain. But Yanitza found comfort in the staff's attentiveness. "I started to think that everything was going to be OK because they kept such a close eye on me."

In May 2008, Yanitza delivered her daughter as planned, with neonatologists and pediatric heart specialists at the ready. "Knowing what we were up against, we immediately gave the baby medications to increase her heart rate and inserted a pacemaker two days later," says Barbara Santucci, MD, a pediatric heart specialist. "This proactive approach really can make the difference between life and death."

Happy endings, new beginnings

Today Hayley is a playful 3-year-old who, because she has a pacemaker, continues to be closely monitored by the Rush team. While the rigors of caring for a child with special health needs have tested Yanitza in ways she never imagined, she has never doubted Hayley's quality of care — before birth, immediately after and ever since.

Rush's watchful approach gave her the reassurance to try parenthood again. This time, though, Yanitza is prepared to expect what was once unexpected. And by all indications, she should expect a healthy baby girl this fall.

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Thrown a Curve

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