A Little Heart Throb
Patient Name : Hannah Martin
Stacey Martin stood on the roof of Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women watching as the helicopter rose to fly south to Miami Children’s Hospital with her daughter less than twenty-four hours old. I never even got to hold or feed my baby, she screamed in her mind. She had never known such pain. As the helicopter lifted off, Stacey fell into David’s arms, crying. They had known their little Hannah would need multiple heart surgeries since early in the pregnancy, they just had not known when. “You can never plan in your own heart that it will actually happen,” Stacey says.
Just the day before, on July 28, 2004, obstetrician Stephen Carlan, MD, performed a Cesarean section to avoid putting Hannah’s heart through unnecessary pressure during labor. Before rushing Hannah to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), nurses held her out to her mother so Stacey could place a quick kiss on her baby’s cheek. The little girl had four heart defects that caused her to turn a deep reddish purple color because her body could not get enough oxygen. She would need surgery in days rather than weeks.
David and Stacey joined Hannah at Miami Children’s Hospital a couple days later when it was safe for Stacey to travel. At six o’clock on the morning of August 5, the Congenital Heart Institute team told the Martins the time had come, “We are going to do it this morning.” Just a week old, Hannah underwent open-heart surgery. Doctors placed a patch over a hole between her left and right ventricles, to keep the oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood separate. They then used a valve from a three-month old donor to create a pulmonary valve where Hannah had none, allowing the oxygen-poor blood to flow from her heart to her lungs. The initial life-saving surgery was successful.
The purple tinge to Hannah’s body had gone, but the following days were not easy. Hannah fought infection after infection over the next six weeks. Two weeks after her surgery, a nurse asked Stacey, “Have you had a chance to hold your baby?” Stacey realized she had not held her since before the surgery. With the long white and blue ventilator tube, IV lines, and monitor cords safely arranged, Stacey nervously held her fragile daughter. Soon the little bundle felt natural in her arms. The infections cleared, Hannah weaned off the ventilator and finally went home on August 29.
Over the next year, while Hannah continued to grow, doctors at Arnold Palmer Hospital’s Congenital Heart Institute continued to monitor Hannah’s heart. Hannah’s scar had gotten smaller. Her blonde curls stretched passed her shoulders, and she had taken her first teetering steps. In October 2004, when Dr. David Nykanen, pediatric cardiologist, performed the second heart catheterization, he saw that Hannah had outgrown her donor valve. Her heart was working too hard; without another surgery, her heart could fail.
Hannah’s second open-heart surgery was scheduled for November 16, 2004, contingent on another donor. “I didn’t want to go through it again, but I was also ready to get it over with,” admits Stacey. Stacey agonized during the days leading up to the schedule surgery, there was no donor valve available; Hannah may not get her surgery. Pediatric cardiac surgeon Redmond Burke, MD, called Stacey and told her that the valve had come; a sixteen year-old girl had passed away in a car crash and her family had donated her organs; Hannah had her much needed heart valve.
The Martin family brought Hannah to Arnold Palmer Hospital. Images of their child struggling to breathe on her own without the help of a ventilator filled their minds from her first surgery. “The thing I feared most was seeing her with a breathing tube down her throat again,” she shares. As Stacey sat rocking the anesthetized Hannah, tears rolled down her cheeks. “I love you,” she whispered into her limp daughter’s ear. Hours passed as Dr. Burke cleared away scar tissue and worked on the tiny girl’s heart. He replaced the too small valve with the much larger valve of the sixteen year old; Hannah now had room to grow.
At the completion of the delicate surgery Dr. Burke sat down beside the Martins and drew pictures of the repairs he had made to Hannah’s heart, making sure her family understood the procedure. “Would you like to see her?” a nurse came out and asked. Stacey was not sure. She could not handle seeing her baby on life support when she had been running around the day before. “She is not on a ventilator,” she said sensing her fear.
Relief poured over the entire family. They had not realized they had been holding their breath. Hannah breathed on her own. “Everything went the way it was supposed to,” Stacey says in relief. “What the doctors of the Congenital Heart Institute told us would happen, did.” The Martins had prepared to be in the hospital for six weeks, like before, but Hannah went home in six days.
Hannah went home with a heart that will last into her teens, if not the rest of her life. “Hannah is a wonderful bright and beautiful child that will surely make a mark in this world thanks to Arnold Palmer Hospital, Miami Children’s Hospital, and the Congenital Heart Institute,” proclaims Stacey.