Father and Son: Two Hearts, One Condition, a Happy Family
Saving Charlie’s Heart
When Pam Lowery went for her 20-week prenatal check, her doctors found something concerning with the fetus’s heart. The doctor recommended getting needed expert advice. Within a few hours, Pam and her husband Patrick went to Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Heart Center, to see their pediatric cardiologists. An expert in fetal echocardiography diagnosed coarctation of the aorta, a condition Patrick had experienced. This condition means part of the aorta, one of the body’s main blood vessels, is very narrow. As a result, the heart must pump very hard to get blood through the aorta and on to the rest of the body. Left untreated, this condition can cause high blood pressure and even heart failure.
Pam and Patrick went to see Peter Pastuszko, MD, Chief of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery and Co-Director of the Children’s Heart Center. Dr. Pastuszko explained that the infant would need surgery within a few days of birth. Dr. Pastuszko assured the worried parents that their baby was in no danger because the womb provides all the oxygen and nourishment the fetus needs.
"In order to fully take care of kids with congenital heart disease, it takes a specialized place, a specialized team."
-Dr. Peter Pastuszko
Patrick remembered his own experience with coarctation of the aorta. When Patrick was a newborn, his kidneys started to fail due to coaction of the aorta, which kept the kidneys from getting enough oxygenated blood. Patrick underwent a surgical procedure using tissue from the blood vessel going to his left arm to repair his aorta. This restored blood flow from Patrick’s heart to his tiny body and kept him in fine shape. Doctors told Patrick’s parents he might need multiple procedures. But this one did the trick for years. With medication, he was able to lead an active life, playing football and baseball and football with his friends all the way through high school. Then he went to college.
At that point, it became clear that Patrick’s aorta had not grown enough. His blood pressure became worse and he began suffering from unbearable headaches. At that point, Patrick went to see Barry Love, MD, Director of the Congenital Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Mount Sinai. Dr. Love implanted a stent in Patrick’s aorta using a minimally invasive small tube (catheter). The stent lowered Patrick’s blood pressure and restored his health. These days, Patrick works as a roofer and also runs to strengthen his cardio health.
But he didn’t want his son to have to go through all that.
"We knew the baby was at increased risk for having congenital heart disease because of Patrick's condition."
-Dr. Barry Love
Fortunately, medical science has advanced over the past 30 years. Since Charlie was diagnosed prenatally, the doctors were able to plan. Pam agreed to give birth at The Mount Sinai Hospital, despite her strong relationship with her local obstetrician. Two weeks before Pam’s due date, Pam was at Mount Sinai for a prenatal exam; her blood pressure was too high. For Pam’s health, her obstetrician, Heather E.A. Hume, MD, realized it was time for Pam to give birth.
On May 23, 2018, Charlie was born. Pam and Patrick held Charlie briefly, then he was taken to the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). There, he immediately began receiving intravenous medication to keep his blood flowing.
The next morning, at 8 am, Dr. Pastuszko operated on Charlie. He removed the narrowed segment of the aorta, which allows the baby’s blood to flow freely. The procedure was a success and Charlie went home a few days later, with normal blood pressure and no health concerns. Unlike what happened with Patrick, this new approach means Charlie is unlikely to develop later narrowing of the aorta. His parents are delighted. “When you see Charlie running around like a crazy child now, you just forget he had the surgery,” says Pam.
They are also thrilled with the highly specialized care they received at Mount Sinai. “I’ve warned Dr. Pastuszko that every time I see him, I’ll be giving him a hug.”