Extremely rare in utero surgery gives unborn baby a chance at living a healthy life

July 27, 2017 11:46 am Last Updated: July 27, 2017 11:46 am


Imagine doctors telling you that it was extremely likely that the child you were pregnant with—your first—would be born blue.

When Kristine Barry went for her 20-week ultrasound she was excited to see how her baby was growing, but a sudden silence that fell upon the room when the technician was looking at the baby, who they named Sebastian, created an uneasiness in the room. Barry knew something wasn’t right. The technician advised her to contact her doctor as soon as possible.

“It felt like the world was crashing around me,” Barry told Global News. “And that I couldn’t believe that this was happening to my baby.”

Barry’s doctor called to tell Barry that her unborn child had an issue with his heart.

Doctors informed Barry and her husband, Christopher Havill, that their baby boy had not one, but two congenital heart defects. One defect was a severe case of transposition of the great arteries, which is when the pulmonary artery and aorta grow opposite to a normal heart’s anatomy. In addition to this heart defect, which prevents the heart from pumping blood throughout the body, the interior walls of their unborn son’s heart were sealed, thus not allowing his blood to flow properly in between the heart’s chambers.

They only had two options to give him the best chance at a healthy life.

(Source: Facebook/Kristine Barry)

The first option doctors discussed with the couple was that the child be born via a caesarean section; however, this could be quite complicated. Once the baby was born doctors estimated they would only have three minutes to perform open heart surgery. If they waited any longer the newborn would could suffer from brain damage, a stroke or death.

According to CBC, newborns with heart defects are able to be transported from Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto — where Barry planned to deliver her son — to the Hospital for Sick Children via an underground tunnel, as the two hospitals are across the street from each other, but Sebastian couldn’t afford to go that long without oxygen.

The couple’s other option was equally as complicated, as it was an extremely rare surgery. Before Sebastian was born doctors would perform an in utero surgery on his heart.

“It’s pretty intense hearing something like that, that they’re going to do it while he’s still inside of her,” Havill told CTV News.

Although it was a foreign concept to the couple, they went with the second option.

On May 18, just a few days before Sebastian was born, doctors at both Mount Sinai and the Hospital for Sick Children worked together to perform what is believed to be the first in utero balloon atrial septostomy.

The procedure wasn’t meant to fix Sebastian’s transposition of the great arteries, instead it was meant to help his blood receive oxygen. The newborn would still need open heart surgery following his birth, but at least it would give doctors more time.

Days after the successful in utero surgery, a crying, pink baby named Sebastian was born.

(Source: YouTube/Screenshot)

“They always primed us that we would be having a blue baby, so when he came out, I’m like ‘That’s not blue,'” Barry told CTV News.

The couple was relieved when their baby boy was born crying just like every other healthy baby. They were also glad they got to spend Sebastian’s first few moments in the world with him and not worrying about whether or not doctors would be able to perform open heart surgery quickly enough.

Following his birth doctors performed another balloon atrial septostomy to improve blood flow, and a week later Sebastian had open heart surgery to fix the arteries in his heart.

Two months after his surgery, Sebastian is just like any two-month-old.

(Source: Facebook/Kristine Barry)

Now weighing a healthy 10 pounds and meeting all of his developmental goals, Barry describes Sebastian as a “pretty calm, pretty chill” baby.

“You barely even know that anything had happened to him unless you take off his shirt and see his scars,” Havill said to CTV News. And according to doctors, chances are Sebastian’s scars will fade over time and although there is a possibility that Sebastian may experience developmental problems, he is expected to live a very normal life.