Pregnant Woman Undergoes Rare & Risky Open-Heart Surgery to Save Her Baby

pregnantSharon Savino coughed up blood near the end of her second trimester with her third child, and understandably freaked out. The 25-year-old had been coughing for weeks, felt constantly exhausted, and her heart would race. She thought it was from the pregnancy, but when she saw blood, she went to the emergency room.

She was sent home with a diagnosis of bronchitis, although the doctors didn't know why she had coughed up blood. Eventually, the 27-weeks-pregnant Savino learned that she had an egg-sized tumor in her heart.


Called an atrial myxoma, the benign tumor posed an immediate threat to both her and her unborn son's life. Dr. James Taylor, chief of the division of cardiothoracic surgery at Stony Brook Hospital in Long Island, said, "It's not a malignant tumor -- not invading ... but because of its size it causes problems inside the heart. Something needed to be done during that hospital visit."

It could've obstructed her blood flow at any moment, causing immediate death, or segments could've broken off, causing a stroke or organ damage.

She had two options -- deliver the baby preterm, heal from her cesarean and undergo the surgery, or do the open-heart surgery while baby boy remained in utero. On January 17, doctors operated while her son stayed put.

The biggest fear concerning the child was making sure he still got oxygen from the blood flow, so doctors worked quickly to make sure mama spent as little time on the heart-lung bypass machine as possible. "What we were trying to do is reduce the amount of time on the heart-lung machine and reduce the amount of time her heart was arrested, when we actually operate inside of the heart," Taylor said.

Most patients in this type of surgery spend 45 minutes on the machine and 25 to 30 minutes with their hearts stopped, but Sharon only spent 18 minutes on the machine, and 12 minutes with her heart arrested.

After a week in the hospital for observation, she was sent home to continue recovering and await her son's arrival along with her husband and their two other children.

In April, the whole family welcomed baby Maximus, a healthy baby boy weighing in at 7 pounds, 3 ounces. Savino said "it was rough" waiting for him. "I couldn't wait to get him out just to see that everything was okay. I was a little nervous not knowing."

How does she feel now that everyone's safe and healthy?

"I felt relief, to know he was healthy and survived the surgery," Savino said. "It's still amazing."

Would you have made the same decision to operate?


Image via Thomas van Ardenne/Flickr

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