When Mike and Kerry Wells found out they were expecting a baby, their joy soon turned to concern when doctors told them that their baby had a serious heart defect. With only one functioning ventricle, the baby would not get all the oxygen he needed and from the moment he was born, it would take extraordinary effort to save his life. His only hope for a healthy, normal life would depend upon the combined expertise of surgeons at UC Davis and UC San Francisco and the love and support of a strong family network.
"As a diabetic, I knew from the start that we might have problems with the pregnancy," said Kerry, a first-time mother from Colusa, Calif. "I always was told to be careful once I got pregnant."
An abnormality was discovered when Kerry underwent an echocardiogram at just 19 weeks gestation at the Fetal Echocardiogram Program at UC Davis Children's Hospital. When the tiny baby, now named Chase, was born, pediatric cardiologists in the neonatal intensive care unit carefully evaluated his condition.
"We found that Chase's heart defect caused him to have lower oxygen levels in his blood than normal babies," said Mark Parrish, chief of pediatric cardiology at UC Davis Children's Hospital. "Chase's problem was a fairly complicated type of a heart defect, where instead of having two separate main pumping chambers, he really only had one pumping chamber."
Without major reconstructive surgery to correct the defects, the baby would be unlikely to survive beyond his toddler years.
Three months after Chase was born, a team of experts from UC Davis and UCSF Children's Hospitals determined that the infant was strong enough to undergo an operation that would begin to restructure his walnut-sized heart. Fortunately, technology now permits surgeons to perform intricate corrections on newborns so that these children can lead normal, energetic and productive lives.
Chase came through his surgery with flying colors and is on his way to growing up stronger and healthier than when he was born – thanks to his fighting spirit and a unique partnership between two of the top children's hospitals in Northern California.
The UCSF/UC Davis Pediatric Heart Center in Sacramento brings together pediatric cardiologists, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons and teams of related doctors, nurses and other staff from both institutions.
The UCSF/UC Davis Pediatric Heart Center shares a team of three pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons, led by UCSF Children's Hospital's chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, Tom Karl. Gary Raff, a pediatric heart surgeon from the University of Illinois School of Medicine in Peoria, Ill., recently signed on as the pediatric heart surgeon based in Sacramento.
"Children here in the Sacramento region will benefit tremendously from this program," Raff said. "By combining the best of both institutions – their technical expertise, research and cutting edge services – families now have a terrific option right in their own back yard to address heart disease in children."