MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Shani Berry gave birth to twins Shaquille and Symphoni prematurely, when she was only 26 weeks pregnant, but there was a complication.
Like many premature infants, Symphoni was diagnosed with a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), the persistent opening of a vessel that connects the pulmonary artery to the aorta.
Typically, the PDA closes in the first few days of life, but when it does not, it often allows too much blood flow and pressure into the lungs. This is particularly problematic in premature infants who typically struggle with the immaturity of their lungs. All of this meant something had to be done otherwise she could die, her mother said and that’s where the state’s only pediatric interventional cardiologist, Dr. Alex Verhoeven at WVU Children’s Hospital, stepped in to use new technology to save her.
We’ve been doing PDA or patent ductus arteriosus closures in babies and in children for a really long time but that’s been limited to these really small sized kids until recently with the advent of some of these new devices. And so we’ve been capable and able to do this for the past nine months or so but we’ve really started kicking this up into gear and trying to help out more kids in our area and in the neighboring areas.Dr. Alex Verhoeven – WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital
The device, Verhoeven is referring to is the Amplatzer Piccolo, explicitly built for premature infants weighing as little as 1 pound, 7 ounces, an option available at select children’s hospitals in the nation.
It allows for a minimally invasive approach as opposed to much more dangerous and rigorous surgeries of the past, Verhoeven said.
“It’s really sort of a rewarding thing because these are kids whose options previously were to sit in a NICU and cross their fingers and hope they get through things really well or have to go into surgery where they might have to get cut into and the recovery time and the problems that are associated with having surgery,” Verhoeven said. “Whereas nowadays we can go in through a small hole in their leg and do the device and in the next day typically they are doing much better.”
Symphoni is truly doing much better these days, she is currently four-months-old, weighs 6 lbs, and able to live without a ventilator and breathe normally, according to her mother. Berry said before the procedure her daughter was not growing, unlike her twin brother and she is grateful that her health trajectory has changed.
Berry said Verhoeven and staff at WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital were welcoming, forthcoming, and made sure she and her daughter wanted for nothing. Most importantly though, she said, she is thankful for Symphoni’s doctor who “literally saved her life”.
“It felt like a huge relief was lifted off your shoulders,” Berry said. “I mean you see your child laying there, struggling and literally do anything for them but be their comfort and no matter what you do it’s not comforting. And then you finally get to hold them with no wires, no anything and they’re just so happy. They find themself, you find yourself again like it’s just a huge relief off your shoulders to see your child finally being able to live their life.”
Without a doubt, Berry said, she would recommend the hospital and Verhoeven to anyone whose child is in a similar situation because of how things have turned around for her daughter. Without the procedure, she reiterated, her daughter would be in a hospital back home in Fayette Co. using a ventilator to survive what could’ve been a life shortened far too soon.
Verhoeven said the ability to offer West Virginian families this service right here in their home state is significant. That is why WVU Medicine Children’s is looking to partner up with other hospitals in the state.
“We’re working towards teaming up with all the local hospitals both here and elsewhere in the state,” Verhoeven said. “That allows us to bring in kids, give them the treatment that they need, but then send them back closer to home where they can sort of around their support networks and their families and all of the other things that need to happen. It allows us to really take care of the critically ill kids and then allow them to go back home when they are not as sick.”
Berry said she was glad she and her family chose to travel to Monongalia Co. to seek Verhoeven’s service because it made all the difference.
“Do not stop fighting for your kids, there’s always other options elsewhere,” Berry said.
Verhoeven and other healthcare workers at WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital will be under a new roof in the new Children’s Hospital that is slated for completion in the summer of 2021. According to the hospital, construction is progressing rapidly, the entire superstructure, portion of a building which is constructed above the ground level, has been completed and all of the concrete deck floors have been poured.