Before her 20-week appointment, Danielle Armstead’s second pregnancy was going smoothly. At 20 weeks, Danielle went in for a complete anatomy scan ultrasound, where a technician takes multiple measurements of the baby, including the size of the head and the length of the femur bone. During the appointment, the technician also views the blood flow in the umbilical cord, kidneys and heart.
When the technician got to the heart of Danielle’s baby, they discovered a congenital heart defect. Danielle’s baby, Chandler, was diagnosed with tricuspid atresia, which means that the heart is severely under-developed on the right side. Ultimately one ventricle will have to do the work of two.
Knowing that her daughter would need a series of three planned heart surgeries, heart catheterizations and life-long specialized cardiac care, Danielle was referred to the Children’s Heart Institute at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. The Children’s Heart Institute provides total prenatal, infant, pediatric and young adult heart care for patients with congenital or acquired heart disease.
“When I was eight months pregnant, I met with Dr. Shaun Setty,” says Danielle. “He thoroughly explained Chandler’s condition to me, and let me know that she would need several surgeries to correct the defect, including one immediately after birth. I was nervous, but Dr. Setty assured me that we would be cared for by a great team.”
Chandler was born at the Cherese Mari Laulhere BirthCare Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s, which is equipped to handle high-risk pregnancies. Once she was born, Chandler was immediately taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), just steps away from where her mom was recovering in the BirthCare Center. In the NICU, Chandler’s team helped prepare her for her first surgery.
“Any time a child is diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, it is a sensitive discussion we need to have with the family,” says Dr. Setty, medical director, pediatric & adult congenital cardiac surgery, The Larry & Helen Hoag Foundation Endowed Chair in Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery, Miller Children’s & Women’s, and interim medical director, adult cardiac surgery. “When a child is diagnosed while still in the womb, it is always a surprise for the family. Our goal is to walk the family through every step of the process so they know exactly what will happen at delivery,” adds Dr. Setty. “From the beginning, we made sure we communicated with Danielle that Chandler would need specialized care. We built our relationship as partners in Chandler’s care, and that helped ease some of the anxieties. So instead of getting shocking news just after delivering a baby, the parents were ready to proceed with whatever care their baby needed. ”
At just a few days old, Dr. Setty performed Chandler’s first surgery. After the procedure, Chandler was taken to the designated cardiac wing within the Cherese Mari Laulhere Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) to recover from the surgery.
“The entire team we worked with was fantastic,” says Danielle. “It is scary when your newborn undergoes open heart surgery, but the team communicated with us throughout the entire stay in the hospital. We knew Chandler was in great hands. At 12-days-old, the team helped me finally hold Chandler for the first time. It is a moment I’ll never forget.”
When she was 7-months-old, Chandler returned to Miller Children’s & Women’s for her second surgery, and was back home after a six-day stay in the PICU. Today, at 11-months-old, Chandler needs one more surgery in a few months, but she is meeting all of her developmental milestones. She’s in the “cruising” stage, and well on her way to walking.
“Miller Children’s & Women’s had everything our family needed to care for Chandler,” says Danielle. “We met with specialists before she was born, which helped us know what to expect from the beginning. Then from the delivery, through our brief stay in the NICU, the Children’s Heart Institute team, and to our stay in the PICU, we felt at home. Everyone was so helpful. All of the teams communicated with each other, and for a scary time we felt at ease.”