WVU Medicine Children’s performs the first neonatal cardiac intervention in the state of West Virginia


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – On May 17, Shani Berry, of Fayette County, gave birth to her twins a little earlier then she expected. She was only 26 weeks along in her pregnancy when her twins, Shaquille and Symphoni, came into this world.

After undergoing an emergency C-section, her son, Shaquille, weighed just 2 pounds, 6 ounces, and her daughter, Symphoni, weighed a mere 1 pound, 15 ounces. 

Shortly after her arrival, Symphoni was diagnosed with a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), the persistent opening of a vessel that connects the pulmonary artery to the aorta, which is common in many premature infants, according to WVU Medicine.

Typically, the PDA closes in the first few days of life, but when it doesn’t, it often allows too much blood flow and pressure into the lungs, which can be problematic in premature infants who struggle with the immaturity of their lungs.

“Symphoni required respiratory support around the clock from different devices. She was so fragile and not progressing,” said Berry.

Symphoni was taken to WVU Medicine Children’s in August, to receive treatment from the only pediatric interventional cardiologist in West Virginia, Alex Verhoeven, M.D.

Dr. Verhoeven offers invasive options to close the PDA, which include the newest device for this purpose, the Amplatzer Piccolo, built specifically for premature infants weighing as little as 1 pound, 7 ounces, an option available at select children’s hospitals in the nation.

The development of these new devices and new skills allow some interventional cardiology programs, that are equipped, to perform less invasive techniques for premature infants who meet the appropriate criteria.

When Symphoni arrived at WVU Medicine Children’s, she weighed about 4.4 pounds and was on a ventilator. It was clear that her delicate lungs needed help, and we discussed all the options with her family. We felt that using a catheter-based approach would allow her small body to heal faster without the whole-body impact that surgery can have on an infant so small. The procedure involves accessing the vein in the leg and using this tiny blood vessel as a portal to the heart. Through this small hole and with the help of both ultrasound and x-ray imaging, we are able to place a small soft, metal mesh device into the heart or blood vessel causing the problem.”

Alex Verhoeven, M.D.

Symphoni’s PDA was closed with an Amplatzer device, allowing her to return to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She quickly come off all of her breathing support and was reunited with her mother, within just a few days.

“Symphoni has found her voice. She is off all oxygen, she is able to bottle feed, plus her attitude and personality are starting to show. We are so grateful to Dr. Verhoeven and his team. They were more than helpful and provided excellent care,” Berry said. “I can’t wait for us all to grow together as a family.”

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