When Tiny Hearts Need Dramatic Care
When labor started three and a half months before her twins were due, Erin S's doctor sent her immediately to Goryeb Children’s Hospital at Morristown Medical Center. She and husband Jason, of Little Ferry, NJ, were soon to be the parents of baby boys – Gray and Liam – and discover the importance of having a team of newborn specialists right at their side.
The boys were very premature, born at 26 weeks, in August 2019. During labor and after birth, the staff of Goryeb’s neonatal (newborn) intensive care unit, or NICU, kept close watch. In those first days, specialists found that Gray had a series of serious conditions: first was a life-threatening infection. Then, he required emergency brain surgery. Finally, a heart defect left him so unstable that the delicate surgery to repair it needed to be performed right at his bedside in the NICU instead of the operating room.
“We didn’t know if he would survive any of these,” Erin recalls. “The staff were amazing.”
Gray recovered from these difficult challenges, and the family welcomed him home after 124 days. Liam had gone home earlier, after an 86-day stay.
Liam developed normally. Gray, however, seemed to struggle. “He was vomiting, not sleeping. He was miserable,” Erin recalls. “Over about six weeks, we went to every specialist we could think of.”
Once again, his heart doctor found the cause: Gray had developed pulmonary vein stenosis, a rare, rapidly progressive heart defect that can occur in very sick premature infants.
Across the entire state of New Jersey, there are only two heart specialists who are specially trained to care for unborn children and to perform advanced cardiac imaging in children with heart disease. And both are based at Goryeb. They are Anjali Chelliah, MD, and Saira Siddiqui, MD, who are also the only specialists in NJ who have had extensive training, including an advanced imaging fellowship, in fetal cardiology and cardiac MRI and CT.
“We’ve created a one-stop resource for these parents and babies, so they don’t have to travel an hour or more to get the highest levels of diagnosis and treatment they need,” Dr. Chelliah says.
During that office visit in January 2020, Dr. Chelliah realized Gray needed more tests. Within hours, she performed a cardiac CT scan that confirmed he had this rare heart condition and started coordinating with the team that performed multiple open-heart surgeries to repair it.
Today, Gray is at home, and his almost constant smile is witness that he’s doing better every day.
Because of Goryeb’s comprehensive heart care for children, his weekly tests, like almost all of his care, are close to home. “Dr. Chelliah is like family to us now,” Erin says. “She’s so caring, even calling every day during the hardest times. She 1,000% saved his life.”
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