Compassion and technology help monitor tiny hearts

In a month devoted to matters of the heart, the babies in a local neonatal intensive care unit wear red hats for warmth and comfort. But in another part of the hospital, parents who have babies with heart ailments seek comfort in technology and care. Like the Youkers.

After two miscarriages, Mandy and P.J. Youker are expecting a baby girl. Grace Joy is due in March.

“When you hear that heart beat it really legitimizes what’s going on,” Mandy Youker said. “And today was a really good appointment for us because we’ve been through our share of tough appointments.”

But pediatric cardiologist Dr Joyce Johnson is interested in more than the beautiful, booming heartbeat.

Grace has Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect, about 50 percent of babies with the chromosomal disorder do.

There’s a hole between the top and bottom chambers of her heart. Right now, she’s doing just fine. But once Grace is born, the defect will cause blood to back up into her lungs.

“What happens when you have that inefficient circulation the lungs get heavy and wet and it makes it harder for the baby to breathe,” Dr Johnson said.
Grace will have open heart surgery to repair the defect when she’s about four months old. For now, fetal echocardiograms are critical - and comforting.

“Today was very positive because the heart is growing as expected,” Mandy said. “With things like this, knowledge is power.”

Anne Street is pregnant with her fifth baby. She and her husband Tim are expecting a baby boy in June.

“After going through everything I did with my daughter now it’s even more special,” she said.

Just hours after their daughter Lorraine was born, her heart started to fail.

“Ultimately, she had a complication that caused her to pass away,” Dr Johnson said.

“My daughter was the most amazing person I’ve ever met and this time around the fears were all there,” Anne Street said.

“Whenever you’ve had a child with congenital heart disease the chance of having another child with congenital heart disease goes up significantly,” Dr Johnson said.

But it’s all good news for Anne Street.

“I’m absolutely elated that he is perfectly healthy,” she said.

Dr Johnson runs the fetal echocardiogram clinic at Northwestern Medicine’s Central Dupage Hospital.  More information on their website.

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