Repairing the tiniest heart
"My son Xavier was only 10 days old when he had open-heart surgery to fix a congenital defect. Basically, they had to rebuild his heart. Thanks to the surgeons, nurses and everyone else at the surgery center, he's doing great."
Major cardiovascular surgery is usually the concern of an aging adult, not a newborn baby with a heart the size of a strawberry. Yet that’s exactly the challenge that tiny Xavier Smith faced just days after coming home from the delivery room.
Xavier’s mother, Jessica Mendoza, had experienced a normal full-term pregnancy, and no one expected problems for Xavier. But soon after her release from the community hospital in rural Colusa, California, 22-year-old Jessica and her mother noticed that her baby boy wasn’t eating or breathing as well as he should be.
Doctors at the local hospital consulted UC Davis experts, which led to an air ambulance ride to the Pediatric Heart Center at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. There, UC Davis specialists diagnosed a rare congenital heart defect that had been undetected during pregnancy.
The condition, known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, leaves one side of the heart severely underdeveloped, often leading to massive organ failure within the first hours or days of life.
That process had already begun for Xavier. At just 10 days old he entered UC Davis Children’s Surgery Center where pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon Gary Raff performed the Norwood procedure, the first of a three-step surgical series to rebuild his heart and restore proper circulation of oxygen-rich blood to his body.
"I was scared and nervous – I didn’t know what any of this meant as far as what was going to happen to Xavier," Jessica said. "I’d never heard of congenital heart defects before. I was told not all babies survive through open-heart surgery with the disease that Xavier had."
UC Davis Children’s Hospital became the first in inland Northern California to establish the Norwood program, and the procedure itself is one of the most specialized that UC Davis surgeons perform.
Xavier recovered well from the first Norwood surgery and the second, a shunting procedure at three months of age. The third and final in the series, the Fontan procedure, will take place this fall.
"I think his care has been outstanding – all of the doctors at UC Davis are wonderful and do a great job of making sure I understand everything that goes on," Jessica said. "He is progressing very well and doing things other kids his age are doing."
Xavier is active enough that it can be difficult for a newcomer to tell he has heart issues at all. He tends to tire faster than other kids, but otherwise his condition isn’t obvious.
"He loves to play and walk around outside," his mother said. "He likes to watch football and basketball on TV, and he is already really into electronics."
In other words, typical stuff for any healthy young guy.