Hearts of Gold

Dr. Lucinda Wright of Norton Children’s Hospital reviews a Fetal Echo.

Saving Children’s Lives

By Graham Pilotte

For some families, the joy of having a baby can be overshadowed by fear when they learn their child has been diagnosed with prenatal heart disease. In the case of little Kari Brown, the care provided by doctors at Norton Children’s Hospital in downtown Louisville made all the difference.

“We were going to the doctor to find out the sex of our baby,” says Kalitha Brown, Kari’s mother. “But this thirty-minute appointment turned into a four-hour day.”

Kari was born with a heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot. Dr. Lucinda Thurman Wright, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Louisville and pediatric cardiologist at Norton Children’s Hospital, met Kari and her family early on. “We met Kari when she was a 25-week-old fetus,” Dr. Wright says, explaining that many babies come through Norton Children’s Hospital prenatally. “Early detection, to be able to see into a baby’s heart before birth, is a huge benefit for families and children long-term,” Dr. Wright says. To diagnose heart disease before birth, she will often offer a test nicknamed a fetal echo. “It uses ultrasound waves through the mom’s belly,” Dr. Wrights says. “It takes about twenty minutes to scan, depending on how active the child is. It’s painless, and it’s very straightforward.”

A healthy Kari Brown looks forward to becoming a big sister soon.

The test helps doctors and parents determine what’s going on with their infant. “If the heart looks great, the family can be reassured,” Dr. Wright explains. “If a heart problem is discovered, we can help prepare the family – it gives them the chance to understand it.”

As it turned out, Kari would need surgeries to ensure her heart would work properly. “Preparing for her surgery, we had to take a lot of trips downtown and have tests to know what needed to be done,” Brown remembers. “I didn’t know how I was going to react, but they kept us updated through the entire procedure and had a room for us, so our family could be all together.”

“Once she got out of surgery, and we were going back to see her, I thought I was going to break down and cry,” Brown says. “She was hooked up to all these machines and everything – but it was an easy feeling that came over me, because I knew they fixed it, and they did what they needed to do to make her heart right.”

“Studies show that children with heart disease that’s diagnosed prenatally have better long-term results,” Dr. Wright asserts. “Early identification is one of the key things that will help, so we want to make sure moms talk to their OB.” In the case of any problems, parents will be glad they’re close to Norton Children’s Hospital. “We’ve been fortunate to assemble a collection of health care providers who truly care about offering high-quality care in a local environment,” Dr. Wright says. “Many providers are from this area and have chosen to come back.”

Kari has made a great recovery and is an active child. “She’s a ball of energy. You would never know that she’s been through what she has. She never lets anything stop her,” Brown says with a smile. Kari has had her first birthday and is close to their ten-year-old son, Rodney Brown, Jr., as well as a new baby that’s on the way. “We’re actively expecting,” Brown says happily. “This baby is fine at 20 weeks. It’s a little girl—and it seems like Kari knows there’s a baby in there.”

VT Norton Children’s Hospital

231 E. Chestnut Street