Preparing for a baby with a heart condition

Early detection allows families to prepare with their baby’s cardiologists and other providers long before delivery.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of an expectant couple visiting their OB/GYN for their 20-week pregnancy ultrasound. Thrilled to see tiny images of your baby on the screen, the mood changes as the ultrasound sonographer notices something abnormal.

You go through a roller coaster of emotions as you learn the health of your baby is in question.

“While the heart is very small at 20 weeks, it is our first opportunity to determine if there is a heart problem,” said Stacie Hartlage, R.N., BSN. “When an ultrasound reveals potential abnormalities, the family is referred to a high-risk obstetrician; and if concerns are identified, a noninvasive fetal echocardiogram (echo) is performed.”

As a nurse navigator at Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, Stacie is working with families as they start a journey toward a healthy baby.

Once a potential condition is identified, the Norton Children’s fetal cardiology team consults with the family either in Louisville or through partnering providers across the region, including in Paducah, Bowling Green and Owensboro, Kentucky. For these outreach locations, a video visit eliminates the need for travel.

About four weeks after their first fetal echo, the family will have a second to look for any changes.

Meeting the team makes all the difference

At this point, the family meets the team of providers who will be with them every step of the way through pregnancy, delivery and the child’s care.

Norton Children’s Heart Institute

Experience and expertise close to home.

They meet their pediatric cardiologist, neonatal specialists, cardiac intensive care specialists and a cardiothoracic surgeon. They tour the neonatal intensive care unit and Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Norton Children’s Hospital, and they receive a “My Heart Journey” booklet. This serves as a detailed guide through the treatment process.

While families build a bond with the team, behind the scenes providers are preparing for the baby’s arrival.

“Each baby’s case is presented at a multidisciplinary fetal meeting,” said Brian J. Holland, M.D., pediatric cardiologist, co-chair of Norton Children’s Heart Institute and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “We review the latest findings, mom’s progress and the plan for once the baby is delivered. This thorough and regular conversation among providers is important to help the team prepare for the care that will ensue in the coming days or weeks of the child’s life.”

All of these efforts are invaluable to the team just as much as they are to the families.

“Our ‘meet-the-team approach’ and resources have been a game-changer for many families,” said Ashley J. Rhinehart, APRN, single ventricle coordinator, Norton Children’s Heart Institute. “They tell us they feel more informed, emotionally prepared and reassured that they are in the right place to receive the best care for their baby.”