The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 21, 2009

Tots' hearts healed simply

'U' procedure avoids open heart surgeries

By Robb Murray

MANKATO — Lori and Mark Haman may be the luckiest set of unlucky parents you’ll ever meet.

They have two gorgeous daughters full of life and spirit. But that’s not why they’re lucky.

Their girls, Josie, 3, and Jenna, 1, were born with a holes in the upper chamber of their hearts, a genetic stroke of bad luck for them and their worried parents. In some cases the condition can be fixed in a pediatric heart catheterization lab. In more serious cases, it requires open-heart surgery.

So here’s why they’re lucky: They’ve had a relatively uneventful road to getting those hearts repaired. No sleepless nights. No brushes with death. Just a handful of hospital visits, competent medical professionals and smooth recoveries.

Because of advances in medical technology, both girls were able to undergo successful and minimally invasive procedures that repaired their hearts and gave them normal lives.

For Josie, their older daughter, the problem first came to the Hamans’ attention during a well-baby check. Josie had a heart murmur, and their doctor suggested they have a specialist look at it.

That specialist was University of Minnesota pediatric cardiologist James Moller, who knew instantly — after listening to Josie’s heart — what the problem was.

“As soon as he heard it,” Lori Haman says, “he drew a picture of it and started talking about treatments.”

Moller’s treatment of choice is insertion of an Amplatzer Septal Occluder, a device invented by a U of M doctor. The device acts as a patch for the hole in the heart.

Josie was adopted. And when her biological sibling was born, the mother chose to give her up for adoption as well. As the parents of the new baby’s sibling, they had the option of adopting Jenna, which they did. And not long after welcoming her home, a routine doctor visit showed she suffered from the same heart malady as her big sister.

Jenna’s treatment would be identical. But on the day of her surgery, they got a rare dose of panic when, 20 minutes after it began, people began leaving the operating room.

“We were worried it didn’t work and they were going to have to do open-heart surgery,” Mark Haman said.

Instead, it was good news: The surgery was successful.

Jenna’s case was potentially more serious. Compared to Josie, there was a greater chance that the device wouldn’t work and she’d need open-heart surgery. So the hospital was prepared with a unique, hybrid approach: hope to be able to patch the hole with the minimally invasive procedure, but prepare for the possibility of having to do open-heart surgery by having a full team of doctors standing by, ready to go should the situation call for it.

“When they talked about open heart,” Lori Haman said, “hearing all the details was kind of overwhelming.”

At most hospitals, a failed catheter fix could mean taking the patient back to recovery and scheduling another date for the more serious surgery.

“It's a one-of-a-kind facility in Minnesota,” said Ryan Davenport, a spokesman for the hospital.

The only trouble that resulted from the procedures, the parents say, was the difficulty in getting their daughters to remain calm and still after the procedure. Doctors want patients to remain motionless for four hours.

Josie and Jenna, their parents (and any observers) will say, are anything but motionless.