Mending broken hearts
Health care and technology are two things that are constantly changing. As we reflect back over Cook Children's 100-year history, this is evident in every patient story we've come across. Medical advancements are happening daily, allowing us to save more lives and live up to the promise we made 100 years ago.
The story of Melanie and Rossleigh Dewey, a mother and daughter both born with congenital heart defects, is a perfect illustration of the importance of these medical advancements. It also stirs our excitement ... what will the next 100 years bring?
When Patti Wilson was pregnant with her daughter Melanie in 1980, routine sonograms did not exist. There was no way for expectant mothers to know if anything was wrong with their baby until the baby was born. Up until labor, Patti's pregnancy had been text book and no one had any reason to suspect anything was wrong. However, when Patti went into labor, everything changed.
Doctors began noticing that Melanie's heart would stop every time Patti had a contraction. They originally thought the umbilical cord was wrapped around Melanie's neck, but after the emergency C-section, Patti and her husband learned their newborn baby girl faced a life-threatening diagnosis.
The day after Melanie was born, she was transferred to Cook Children's, which was called Fort Worth Children's at the time. The prognosis Melanie's parents received was bleak.
At 5 days old, Melanie had her first heart catheterization. This first procedure allowed doctors to diagnose Melanie with a combination of congenital heart defects that included transposition of the great arteries, ventricular septal defect and pulmonary stenosis. She would need multiple procedures to fix the structural abnormalities in her heart, but the catheterization temporarily fixed the problem in order to postpone surgery as long as possible.
Melanie was 1 year old when she had her first open heart surgery, a Rastelli procedure, at Cook Children's. The doctor who performed the surgery had practiced under the same pioneer cardiac surgeon for which the procedure was named. Throughout her life, Melanie had additional surgeries at 3, 10, 16 and 27 years old. She also underwent multiple heart catheterizations and procedures.
For Melanie, Cook Children's became a home-away-from-home over those years. Cook Children's cardiologist Richard Readinger, M.D., began to feel more like a family member, than a doctor, as he had followed her since she was 8 years old.
When asked about how her diagnosis affected her life as a child, Melanie said it was all she ever knew. She learned about her diagnosis as a child learns most things – by experiencing it day by day. When she was 11, James Hudson Allender, M.S., M.D., another Cook Children's cardiologist, sat her down to explain that her mom may not always be with her if there is an emergency and she must know and understand her own diagnosis. It was at this point that Melanie remembers truly understanding what she had been coping with up until then.
Melanie hasn't had any complications since her last procedure at age 27. Even though she's an adult, she continues to be followed by Cook Children's cardiologists who are skilled in treating patients of all ages with congenital heart defects. With the continued advancements in pediatric cardiology, children with congenital heart defects are not only surviving, but growing up to become adults who lead rich, full lives. Cook Children's Adult Congenital Heart Disease program is one of only a few formal programs nationwide to offer inpatient and outpatient care for patients from the moment they are born all the way into adulthood.
But the story doesn't end there.
Due to Melanie's diagnosis, she was told that pregnancy would likely be too risky. Her doctors were unsure if her heart would be strong enough to carry a baby to term.
But, some things are left to fate and Melanie and her husband, Lance, found out the shocking news that she was pregnant. They were blessed with a girl that they would lovingly name Rossleigh.
Because of Melanie's history, she immediately called Dr. Readinger after finding out she was pregnant. Luckily, technology had evolved since Melanie's birth and they were able to do a fetal echocardiogram, similar to a sonogram, to check on Rossleigh's heart. The echo revealed that Melanie and Rossleigh shared a lot more than just DNA. Rossleigh also had a congenital heart defect, tetralogy of Fallot and pulmonary atresia.
Rossleigh would again benefit from improved technology and research over the years and thus far, has only needed one surgery to fix her congenital abnormality. She could end up needing another procedure in her teenage years, but right now, she is living life as a normal 5-year-old.
The bond between a mother and daughter is always special and unique, but Melanie and Rossleigh's bond is even more unique because of their shared experiences.
As we look back over Cook Children's 100-year history, Melanie's story is proof of how medical advancements are improving lives each and every day. If Melanie was born 10 years earlier, the Rastelli procedure would not have existed and she would have died as an infant. If she was born 10 years later, she would have been able to undergo the Nikaidoh procedure, where doctors switch the two sides of the heart. It's likely she would have needed just one surgery rather than five.
All of these improvements are not taken for granted at Cook Children's. We know that we could not have made these strides without your help. Our generous donors and supportive community allow us to help Melanie to live her life to the fullest. As you join in our celebration of 100 years, remember who we are really celebrating – patients like Melanie and also, you, our generous donors. Thank you for being the 1 in our 100.