Syracuse freelancer writer Kathryn Lee posts as a guest today on “What’s Up at Upstate,” sharing the amazing story of a Syracuse woman who delivered a baby and underwent open heart surgery the same day….
Expectant mother Tashiko Melendez awoke Aug. 17, 2010 with no clue that her life, and that of her baby, would depend on the expertise and collaboration of her obstetrician and multiple specialists at two Syracuse hospitals.
She was due to deliver her second son by Cesarean section at Crouse Hospital in another six weeks. He would be a little brother to her first son, Jaxson.
As the day progressed, Melendez developed pain in her chest and back. Since she had never experienced labor, she recalls, “I wondered if this might be it, even though I was only 34 weeks along.” The pains were constant and eventually became unbearable. Melendez’s mother took her to the emergency room at Crouse. Initial tests showed that the baby was fine and Melendez was not in labor. Then a sonogram revealed the cause of her pain: a tear in her aorta, the largest artery in the body that carries blood to and from the heart. Melendez was in the midst of a life-threatening emergency.
Crouse cardiologists Joseph Battaglia and Matthew Gorman summoned Upstate heart surgeon Charles Lutz MD. With deliberate speed, Melendez was whisked through the hallways that connect the two hospitals to Upstate’s operating room. Melendez’s obstetrician, Alexandra Spadola MD, delivered baby Joseito by C-section, and the newborn boy was returned to the Crouse Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Immediately after, Melendez was prepped for open-heart surgery. She remembers feeling terrified.
Melendez had what is known as a Type A aortic dissection, which occurs in the ascending aorta, the part that branches into coronary arteries that supply the heart with oxygenated blood. Seventy percent of cases are brought on by high blood pressure, which Melendez had. The aorta withstands significant pressure changes with each heart beat. Over time, an elevated blood pressure can weaken the lining of the aorta causing it to tear.
“Aortic dissection is a fairly common diagnosis, but not during pregnancy. High blood pressure is usually a major contributing factor. But it’s always a serious situation requiring immediate surgical intervention,” says Dr. Lutz, who replaced the damaged portion of Melendez’s ascending aorta with a Dacron tube graft. “Ms. Melendez was fortunate to be treated so quickly and in such a collaborative environment.”
It would be seven days before mother and child could be reunited. Baby Joseito remained in the NICU while Melendez recovered at Upstate.
A year later, both are doing well. Melendez continues to be followed by Dr. Lutz, who expects no further complications as long as her high blood pressure is controlled with medication.