This is a guest post from Kristine Brite McCormick, one of the most outspoken, tireless, compassionate advocates for CHD (Congenital Heart Defects) I’ve ever known. Her daughter Cora was born a few weeks after my daughter, but died in her arms just 5 days later due to an undetected congenital heart defect. She’s turned her sorrow and pain into a life’s work of saving other babies, and of honoring her daughter’s short but powerful life by making sure all moms know what to ask at that big ultrasound.
My mid-pregnancy ultrasound came a bit before 20 weeks; I was about 16 weeks along. All I could think about was the sex of my baby, and I was so anxious to learn if I was having a girl or a boy. I figured the technician would automatically see if anything else was amiss.
I was so wrong. It turns out that if I had asked some simple questions, I might have been able to help the technician focus on my unborn baby’s heart. And that might have saved her life.
Instead when she was born, we didn’t know she had a congenital heart defect. Five days later my daughter, Cora, died suddenly and unexpectedly at home in my arms. It was the coroner who first told me about her heart defect. Had it been the ultrasound technician, my life would have been much different because, with early treatment, 90 percent of children born with congenital heart defects live long lives.
Keep in mind, CHDs aren’t always genetic. They can happen in any family, even to mothers in perfect health that don’t do anything risky during pregnancy.
When you go in for your mid-pregnancy ultrasound, take this list of questions with you. The technician might say she can’t give you answers, but you can certainly make sure that she looks a little closer at your baby’s heart:
1. Do you see four chambers in the baby’s heart?
2. Are there two upper chambers (left and right atria), each with a valve controlling blood flow out of them?
3. Are there two lower chambers (left and right ventricles), each with a valve controlling blood flow out of them?
4. Do the two vessels leaving the heart (aorta and pulmonary artery) cross each other as they exit?
5. Is the wall between the two lower chambers intact, without any holes?
6. Is everything else in the heart normal?
Even after asking those questions, your baby could have a heart defect. Ask about pulse oximetry screening for heart defects after birth and report any signs of CHD to your baby’s doctor (tiring easily during feeding, cold to touch, sweating around forehead, turning blue, and trouble feeding).
This post is a not substitute for medical advice. Talk to your doctor for any concerns and questions you have. Questions are from the Children’s Hospital Boston.