Doctors Give Newborn a 'Winter Coat' in Her Body During Open-Heart Surgery

Northwestern Medicine

Eloise Hoffman
Northwestern Medicine

Hearing the words "heart defect" in reference to your child can be terrifying, and Krista and Matt Hoffman from Illinois know that better than most. That's why they're sharing the story of how their newborn, Eloise, was diagnosed with truncus arteriosus and needed immediate open-heart surgery just weeks after she was born. Now that they've made it through the worst, their little fighter is giving others hope and her mom and dad are inspiring others in similar positions, reminding them that any parents can survive even the most devastating diagnosis.

  • Eloise's parents, Matt and Krista Hoffman, first learned that their daughter had a heart condition only a few days after she was born.

    Eloise Hoffman
    Northwestern Medicine

    According to People, the couple was at a check-up with their pediatrician when he told them that Eloise had a heart murmur -- something that is relatively common in newborns, but usually clears up in a couple of days. Unfortunately, Eloise's murmur never went away and it was then that the Hoffmans took her to see a pediatric cardiologist. 

    "He told us that she had this heart defect, and we were just in shock,” her mom Krista, 38, remembered. “It was really scary.” 

    The infant was diagnosed with truncus arteriosus, a rare congenital heart defect that means there is only one large blood vessel that leads out of the heart, instead of two. 

    “It sort of felt like it was out of a movie, because he told us and then a few minutes later we were ushered into another room because we would have to go up to Lurie Children’s Hospital via either a helicopter or ambulance,” Eloise's dad, Matt, also 38, added. “It all just took off from there within five minutes of learning what was happening.”

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  • Eloise was quickly rushed to the hospital, where she would need to undergo the unthinkable -- open heart surgery.

    Eloise Hoffman
    Northwestern Medicine

    It took a week for doctors to be able to treat Eloise with surgery, but in the meantime she was given oxygen and medication to support her while she waited. That time was nerve-racking for Krista and Matt, who were anxious for their daughter to have the surgery as quickly as possible.

    “With truncus you need surgery within the first few weeks of life, or else they start to go into heart failure," Krista explained. “She wasn’t going to survive without the surgery. So we knew that once she got the surgery she would have a healthy heart, and we were excited to get her in there and get her home.”

    And Matt agreed that it was hard seeing his daughter get worse while waiting for the only thing that could make her better. “You’re in a room and she’s hooked up to 15 different machines and they’re all beeping and there’s sick kids all around you," he explained. "That actually seems to be the most stressful part. And as you wait she deteriorates a little more every day. She needs more oxygen and she needs more medicine every day until she gets the surgery.”

    Matt says he felt the easiest part for the parents was the surgery itself. “The least stressful part of the whole thing was when she was in surgery, because we knew that she was in good hands,” he added. 

  • Doctors declared Eloise's surgery a success and fixed the problem by putting a conduit in her heart to act as the missing valve.

    Eloise Hoffman
    Northwestern Medicine

    Thankfully, Eloise's surgery went smoothly and the little girl would make a full recovery. Her dad even joked that the material her new heart conduit was made of, Gore-Tex -- the material sometimes used to make heavy-duty jackets and coats -- is like a protective "winter coat" inside Eloise's body. “It’s like a really heavy-duty coat for her heart,” he joked.

    The Hoffmans have two other children, two boys ages 4 and 5, and are no strangers to the neonatal intensive care unit. Their first children were a pair of twins born prematurely at 22 weeks, but unfortunately their daughter did not survive. Which is why it was so "rough" for Krista to see her little girl again hooked up to monitors and tubes, though this time things had been much more of a success. 

    Three weeks after surgery, Krista and Matt were able to bring Eloise home -- a feat not lost on the parents. "[Newborns are] amazingly resilient. Adults that had open-heart surgery wouldn’t heal as quickly as a baby,” Krista said.

    Eloise is now a healthy 23-month-old, though she will most likely need more surgeries as she grows. One when she is 5 or 6 years old and maybe another in her senior year of high school. But for now, her parents said the almost-2-year-old is "doing really well.”

    “For any parents who are pregnant or have truncus babies, it seems scary, but it’s not as frightening as you think it will be,” Krista said, hoping other parents can learn from their experience. “Focus on the things you can change, not the things that you can’t.”

    “Every day is a fight, but in the end it gets better,” her husband agreed.

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