When Christopher Havill and Kristine Barry, an expecting couple from Toronto, learned that their unborn baby had a heart defect that could be potentially fatal, they were shocked and scared, as all parents would be. But just weeks before Barry’s due date, doctors from SickKids and Mount Sinai Hospital were able to prevent the worst by performing a first-of-its-kind heart surgery on the baby while it was still in the womb.
Five days after the procedure, a little boy named Sebastian came into the world.
“It’s something you would think would only happen on a TV medical show, not in real life,” Barry told CTV News. “Doing the in-utero procedure actually sounded like the best possible thing. In my gut, we knew this was what we wanted to happen, what we needed to do.”
Scans from one of Barry’s prenatal checkups revealed that Sebastian had a condition known as transposition of the great arteries (TGA), meaning that two main arteries leading to his heart were reversed. To remedy this, open heart surgery usually takes place following birth. But what made matters worse was that there was another heart complication: holes important for blood circulation within Sebastian’s heart weren’t opening. Left untreated, doctors would have had to race against the clock to perform surgery immediately following birth, with Sebastian’s body starving for oxygen.
“This is a life-threatening condition that could result in rapid brain damage, with the baby doing very poorly and dying from this,” said Dr. Edgar Jaeggi, head of the fetal cardiac program at SickKids and a member of Sebastian’s team of specialists.
Instead, the team of doctors opted to perform a procedure called a balloon atrial septoplasty, where a needle and catheter were inserted through Barry’s abdomen and into the upper chamber of Sebastian’s heart, allowing them to inflate a balloon and open the hole between chambers.
With blood circulating as it should, Sebastian came out of the womb less than a week later, pink and screaming.
“They always primed us that we would be having a blue baby, so when he came out, I’m like ‘That’s not blue,'” said Barry. “He was here and he looked as babies should when they’re born.”
Two months and two more heart surgeries later (to ensure the holes were large enough and to switch the reversed arteries), Sebastian is developing like any other baby boy, despite being a living, breathing medical miracle. A really, really cute medical miracle.