WVU Medicine Children’s Heart Center reaches milestone, changes lives

MORGANTOWN — One of the scariest things an expectant parent can hear is that there is something wrong with their unborn baby’s heart. That is what led to the creation of the WVU Medicine Children’s Heart Center – to bring together specialists who can provide answers and solutions to ease parents’ fears and create positive outcomes for their children.

The Center was created in June 2021, following the arrival of Christopher Mascio, M.D., chief of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery, and Jai Udassi, M.D., chief of Pediatric Cardiology. Eight months later, the Center reached performed its 100th surgical case, setting a strong foundation for the future.

“Having a formal Heart Center creates a more coherent care team for our patients. We take a multidisciplinary approach with our patients, understanding that heart conditions can affect the child’s overall health and development,” Dr. Mascio said. “We have instituted more structure to the program, including rounding on patients twice a day, holding grand rounds to learn more about the treatment of conditions, and a weekly conference to discuss cases and make sure our team is performing efficiently to provide the best possible evidence-based patient care.”

The WVU Medicine Children’s Heart Center offers the full range of diagnostic and therapeutic options for congenital heart disease, which begins while the mother is still pregnant.

“The only thing we aren’t currently able to do is heart transplant,” Dr. Udassi said. “The whole concept for this Center comes from the idea of bringing all the subspecialists who care for the patient under one umbrella. We want everyone to have the same focus and dedication to our patients for them to have better outcomes.”

When the new WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital is complete, the team will share a centralized space in order to promote collaboration and consultation. The space will include a dedicated Cardiac Intensive Care Unit with focused physicians, advanced practice providers, and nurses, who are trained to handle cardiac patients.

This highly specialized team is essential when handling cases like Stella Summerfield of Parsons, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a condition in which the left-heart structures are underdeveloped, preventing proper blood flow to the body.

“We first found out there was an issue with Stella’s heart when I went in for an ultrasound at 27 weeks pregnant,” Ashley Lipscomb, Summerfield’s mother, said. “The ultrasound tech said there was something abnormal about her heart, and they were going to talk to a doctor.”

Ashley’s doctors referred her to WVU Medicine Children’s for further diagnostic scans. She received a fetal echocardiogram, a test similar to an ultrasound that allows doctors to see the structure and function of an unborn child’s heart. From this test, the doctors confirmed the diagnosis of hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

Ashley was monitored with repeat fetal echocardiograms until she delivered Stella. Shortly after her birth, Stella was taken for testing, including an extensive echocardiogram.

“I was back in my room waiting for the doctor to come, and I was nervous,” Ashley said. “After several hours, the doctor told me that Stella was ok and that I’d be able to see her. They let me go over to the Intensive Care Unit to see her while they finished the echocardiogram. It was hard not being able to hold her, but one of the nurses took my phone and took pictures of her for me, so that helped.”

The echocardiogram showed that Stella’s condition was more serious than the earlier scans indicated and would require a stage 1 Norwood procedure, in which the surgeons adjust the anatomy of the heart and aorta, allowing blood flow to the heart and lungs to be balanced.

“They explained to us what Stella needed and what would happen with the Norwood and that she would need it in just a few days. We were able to hold her and feed her. We set up a schedule, so my fiancé and I were able to have at least one of us with her all the time,” Ashley said. “When it was time for the surgery, I told Dr. Mascio that I trusted him, and I was putting my daughter in his hands. I said I knew he’d do great, and I asked him to just bring her back to me.”

Stella’s surgery lasted six hours, and she had no complications.

“She did wonderful,” Ashley said. “After they brought her up to her room, we were able to go be with her. She had a bunch of machines hooked to her, and she was on several medications. She recovered so quickly, and the nurses started calling her a rockstar.”

Mascio, Udassi, and the team continued to monitor Stella as she recovered, rounding on her two-to-three times a day. As she healed and grew stronger, she was able to come off the medications and equipment.

“Dr. Mascio told us recovery could take as long as the two-to-three months until her next surgery, but she started to improve. She started to gain weight and they were able to remove her feeding tube,” Ashley said. “We were able to pick her up and feed her, and they told us that Stella could go home as long as she could eat the right amounts.”

Stella was discharged to go home less than a month after her surgery. She continues to heal and grow while waiting for the next operation to palliate her hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

“She’s recovered so well. You can barely see the scar on her chest. She’s doing wonderfully,” Ashley said.

“We are grateful for the team at WVU Medicine Children’s. We wouldn’t want her in anyone else’s hands. They were great to us and to Stella. Everyone from the doctors and nurses, all the way down to the janitor were just wonderful. It doesn’t seem like much, but they carried a conversation with us and were so friendly and nice. It really helped us stay positive.”

For more information on WVU Medicine Children’s, visit WVUKids.com.