Local doctors perform life-saving fetal heart procedure

CLEVELAND – A Northeast Ohio family welcomed a healthy baby boy thanks to a life-saving fetal heart procedure performed in utero.

At nearly four months old, Lorenzo Catanese looks like almost any other infant his age.

“He’s just a normal, happy baby, hitting his milestones, playing with his brothers,” said his mother, Heather.

But, his parents worried he might not make it far.

“It's scary because you don't know, and it's the unknown that really scares you,” father Anthony said.

When Heather was five months pregnant, doctors discovered Lorenzo was developing Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, meaning the left side of his heart was not fully forming. He also had a severe leakage in another valve.

The condition is extremely rare and potentially fatal. Available research shows children born with the same combination of defects have just a 10 percent chance of surviving to six months.

“Patients with this particular defect have a really bad prognosis, or life span,” said Dr. James Strainic, a pediatric cardiologist with University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.

Under the guidance of their doctors, the Cataneses chose a risky in utero heart procedure called a Fetal Aortic Valvuloplasty, which is performed at only a handful of hospitals, including UH Rainbow.

“At that point, our goal was to get him through the pregnancy, to get him to be full term and be born and get to spend some time with him,” Heather said, adding that the family thought Lorenzo may only live for a few hours after birth.

“We had to fight for our unborn child's life, and we just got lucky there was a team in Cleveland doing these kind of experimental procedures,” Anthony said.

In early February, doctors inserted a needle through Heather’s abdomen, into her uterus, through Lorenzo’s chest and into his aortic valve. They then inflated a tiny balloon to increase blood flow through his heart. The needle was in Lorenzo’s heart for about four minutes.

“We're putting a needle into a moving structure inside a mom during pregnancy,” said Dr. Ellie Ragsdale, Director of Fetal Intervention at University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital. “It's not just surviving the procedure on the day, it's surviving the procedure long-term to give the heart a chance to remodel and repair itself.”

By all accounts, Lorenzo has defied the odds. He was born healthy in May, and his parents took him home to Chardon after just four days in the hospital.

“Potentially, he could do anything. He could play football, wrestle, swim, run for president, I don't care. I'm just happy he's doing really well,” Strainic said, noting that doctors will continue to periodically monitor Lorenzo’s condition.

University Hospitals said it’s the first time a child has survived the procedure in Ohio.

“He's going to be tough no matter what, having two older brothers,” Heather said. “I think this experience just made him maybe a little extra tough.”

More on UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital here.