It’s a common scene in old Western movies: The good guys are in hot pursuit, but the bank robbers are getting away. “Quick, let’s cut ’em off at the pass!” someone shouts, and all the good guys gallop off through a shortcut. A few moments later, they’ve managed to get ahead of the evildoers!
For ten years now, Children’s Hospital of Boston has been working on cutting Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) off at the pass – by doing heart surgery while the baby is still in the mother’s womb! One of the early signs of HLHS is Fetal Aortic Stenosis; a small Aorta present before birth. (This can be detected through a Fetal Echocardiogram.) Boston Children’s has developed a procedure in which a probe is inserted into the mother and passes through the womb, into the unborn child, and enlarges the Aortic Valve. This is known as Fetal Aortic Valve Dilation.
An article in the June 2010 issue of Congenital Cardiology Today details the procedure and reports on an analysis of 70 attempts to repair the defect. 52 of the procedures (70%) were “technically successful.” If the Left Ventricle is small (and it almost always is) when the operation is done, the Ventricle will not grow. However, it will support growth of other Left Ventricle structures and HLHS can usually be avoided. Aortic regurgitation (backward blood flow through the Aortic Valve) happened in about 40% of the cases. And unfortunately, death occurred 13% of the time.
But the good news is we are starting to be able to fight a severe Congenital Heart Defect before the child is even born – and stopping a severe Congenital Heart Defect almost before it starts!