Like Mother Like Kids: Saving twins with swiss cheese hearts

Congenital heart defects are one of the common birth defects occurring in one in a hundred...
Congenital heart defects are one of the common birth defects occurring in one in a hundred newborns worldwide.(Pixabay)
Published: Apr. 30, 2023 at 11:40 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Jacksonville, Fl. (WALB) - Congenital heart defects are one of the common birth defects occurring in one in a hundred newborns worldwide.

In the US alone, some 40 thousand babies are born each year with some form of congenital heart defect. Ivanhoe introduces us to a new mom who not only was born with one – but both of her babies were too.

Emery and Riley Grissom were born with holes in their hearts – something their mom, Tracey, knows all about.

“I was also born with a congenital heart defect.” Tracey says.

Tracey was born with a rare condition known as Swiss Cheese Heart. She had holes between the lower two chambers of her heart.

“If you were to look at that wall, that septum, it would look like swiss cheese,” Rajesh Shenoy, M.D., Pediatric Cardiologist at Wolfson Children’s Terry Heart Institute, said.

Tracy had her holes repaired when she was eight months old, but because of her heart defect, Tracey and her husband Paul had Emery and Riley through a surrogate.

Not only did the family history put them at risk for heart problems, having them by IVF put them at even higher risk.

“To find out that both your children are gonna have congenital heart defects, it was mind blowing,” Tracy said.

Emery’s holes in the bottom chamber of the heart will likely close as she grows. But Riley?

“Essentially a huge chunk of the wall between the bottom two chambers was missing,” Shenoy said.

Within weeks, Riley was struggling.

“He was in overt heart failure. He was breathing at around 60 to 70 times a minute. That’s about two or three times faster than a newborn should breathe.” Shenoy said.

Doctors at Wolfson Children’s Hospital performed a pulmonary artery banding—putting a tie around the pulmonary artery, preventing the extra blood flow from flooding into little Riley’s lungs. He went back to breathing normally.

“While in the past, he just could not gain weight because his heart and his lungs were working overtime, he’s overtaken his sister right now,” Shenoy said.

And after 140 days in the hospital, Riley went home with his sister, gaining weight and getting stronger—and just had open-heart surgery to close the holes in his heart.

IVF does increase the odds of any baby having a heart defect. That’s why doctors recommend genetic testing be done in vitro. Riley had to have surgery several weeks ago because his condition rapidly declined. Little Emery will also need heart surgery, but not until she is three or four years old.

Doctors say both children are expected to grow up and live a normal, active life.