A team of physicians, nurses and researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Children's of Alabama have taken up a case of a baby to be born on April 7th with hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
The baby will be approximately in 960 babies born in the United States with this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Normally, the right side of the heart pumps oxygen-poor blood from the heart to the lungs and the left side of the heart pumps oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.
But in babies with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, the left side of the heart cannot pump oxygen-rich blood to the body properly. The oxygen-rich blood bypasses the poorly functioning left side of the heart during the first few days of life. The right side of the heart then pumps blood to both the lungs and the rest of the body.
However, among babies with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, one of these openings closes in the first couple of days of life and prevents blood flow from reaching the body. This results in critical illness and even death in some instances.
"There are many types of heart defects, but this is one that really needs to be diagnosed prenatally if possible because these babies need to be born in a center where they can be cared for very soon after they are born," said Richard Davis, M.D., physician and professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in UAB's Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine.
Specifically, hypoplastic left heart babies need a particular medicine to keep the ductus arteriosus open. "The ductus arteriosus is a blood vessel that goes from the pulmonary artery to the aorta," said Waldemar Carlo, M.D., pediatric cardiologist at Children's of Alabama and assistant professor of cardiology in UAB's Department of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine.
The blood vessel normally closes a few hours after birth, or up to two to three days after the baby is born. However, it is very important to keep this blood vessel open in hypoplastic left heart babies because the aorta is smaller and the blood is bypassing the left ventricle for the most part. That blood vessel needs to stay open to get blood circulating to the body.
A series of surgeries may improve the condition though it is not a complete correctable. The operations are complex and come at great risk but they are needed to increase blood flow to the body and bypass the poorly functioning left side of the heart. The surgeries are designed to make the right ventricle the main pumping chamber to the body.