Father and Son: Two Hearts, One Condition, a Happy Family

Patrick’s Story

When Patrick Lowery was born in 1987, his parents had already lost a baby daughter to an untreatable heart condition just a year earlier. So, when doctors rushed Patrick to another nearby hospital, they feared for their newborn son’s life.

As a newborn
Patrick’s kidneys were failing due to a heart condition—coarctation of the aorta. This narrowing of the artery (the aorta) that should bring oxygenated blood to the body prevented the baby’s kidneys from functioning properly.

Thirty years ago, when Patrick was born, coarctation of the aorta and other congenital heart conditions were rarely discovered until the baby became very sick after birth. Fortunately, for Patrick and his parents, his doctors used fast thinking, and got him to a surgeon who could save him. As Patrick recalls being told, the life-saving surgical procedure involved 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.

As a child
Thanks to that life-saving emergency procedure, Patrick grew up a healthy, active child. He loved playing baseball and football with his friends during elementary and high school. His only remaining side effect was high blood pressure, managed throughout his childhood with medication. Patrick was fine.

As a young adult
In college, however, as Patrick had grown, his aorta did not grow enough. His blood pressure became worse. He began suffering from headaches that became unbearable. His cardiologist in New Jersey, Robert Tozzi, MD, sent Patrick to Mount Sinai for treatment.

Barry Love, MD, Director of the Congenital Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Mount Sinai, diagnosed the problem and the solution. Dr. Love implanted a stent in Patrick’s aorta using a minimally invasive small tube (catheter). The stent was successful in lowering his blood pressure, restoring Patrick’s health.

As a father and husband
Today, Patrick’s stamina is remarkable. He sees Dr. Love at Mount Sinai and Dr. Tozzi near home in New Jersey for regular checkups, as all congenital heart patients must do for life. Thanks to Dr. Love, Patrick is able to work in a physically demanding job as a roofer. He also runs to strengthen his cardio health. And, Patrick is a husband and father to a young daughter and an infant son.

Expecting parents get startling news
When Patrick and his wife, Pam, were expecting their second child, they got alarming news during a regularly scheduled pregnancy scan. There appeared to be something wrong with their unborn baby son’s heart. They remained calm at first, asking a local New Jersey cardiologist, George Kipel, MD, to look at the images of the fetal heart which showed a narrowed aorta. Their local doctors agreed to monitor the situation to see if the aorta grew as the baby grew.

However, at the next pregnancy check in, it was obvious that while the baby was growing, the aorta was still narrow. At that point, Dr. Kipel directed them to see one of Mount Sinai’s pediatric cardiology experts as soon as possible.

Charlie’s Story

The diagnosis
Within hours, Patrick and his pregnant wife, Pam, were at the Children’s Heart Center at Mount Sinai in New York City. Here, Santosh Uppu, MD, an expert in fetal echocardiography, took a close look at their baby in utero. He confirmed that their unborn son had coarctation of the aorta, the same condition Patrick had as an infant.

Next steps
Fortunately, the Lowerys were in the right place. Children’s Heart Center fetal and pediatric heart specialists understood their concerns and answered all of their questions. Everyone was on board to help them through Pam’s pregnancy, delivery, and once their baby boy was born.

Dr. Uppu arranged for Patrick and Pam to meet Peter Pastuszko, MD, Chief of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery and Director of Pediatric Cardiovascular Services at Mount Sinai. Dr. Pastuszko explained in detail how he and the staff were poised and ready to care for their baby.

First, he assured them that while in utero their baby was in no danger, since the womb provides all the oxygen and nourishment the fetus needs to grow and thrive. He described how baby Charlie would be cared for, and he assured them that he would repair Charlie’s aorta as soon as needed.

2018 versus 1987
The difference in 2018 is that not only are parents and doctors aware of the problem well before the birth through the Fetal Heart Program. Today’s surgical options are greatly improved over what was available 30 years ago. Mount Sinai’s dedicated pediatric cardiology specialists provide the best after-birth care in the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (PCICU).

Planning for Charlie’s arrival
To make sure that Charlie would get the immediate care he would need at birth, Dr. Pastuszko urged Pam to deliver at Mount Sinai. He explained the medication, which has to be given continuously directly into a vein, would help Charlie before his surgery. However, he went on to tell them that it’s preferable to repair the aorta as soon as possible rather than rely on that medication for too long. Dr. Pastuszko wanted Charlie nearby.

This wasn’t Pam’s ideal. She was close to her obstetrician in New Jersey. However, when she met Heather Hume, MD, the obstetrician who would deliver Charlie at Mount Sinai, she changed her mind. Pam agreed to give birth to Charlie at Mount Sinai.

Charlie arrives
Just two weeks before Charlie was due, Pam was at Mount Sinai for a pregnancy check in. This time, her blood pressure was too high. Dr. Hume, focused on Pam’s wellbeing, announced it was time for Charlie to be born. And so, on May 23, 2018, Charlie Lowry arrived. Patrick and Pam held him for a moment. Then, as planned, Charlie was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). In the NICU, Pam, Patrick, and their extended family members were able to visit him.

All the while, the NICU staff watched over Charlie, taking care of him and monitoring him for any signs that his heart condition was affecting him. Little Charlie received the medication he needed to keep the blood flowing to his body until he was ready for his surgery.

He’s fine
Dr. Pastuszko operated on Charlie the very next morning at 8 am. To repair the coarctation of the aorta, he removed the narrowed segment of the aorta, allowing the blood to flow freely to nourish the body. When the surgery was completed, the news was the best possible, “Charlie is fine.” Patrick hugged the surgeon, relieved and grateful for his son’s health. A few days later, the happy family went home.

Now Charlie is a healthy baby boy with no blood pressure issues. No health issues at all. Charlie’s eating, sleeping, and smiling. And, the Lowerys are a busy, happy family.

A father’s message to other parents
Patrick Lowery wants to reassure other parents. Speaking for him and his wife, Pam, he says, “Today, when a heart problem is found, there’s no need to panic or worry. So much has changed since I was born. Imagine what new things are coming next!

“Just get the best care possible like we did, at Mount Sinai. I’ve warned Dr. Pastuszko that every time I see him, I’ll be giving him a hug.”