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Justin M Newark Beth Israel Medical Center Repairs Baby’s Tiny Heart

“Thanks to Newark Beth, my son is doing really well.”

When Yohanny Cruz was four months pregnant, routine testing showed her developing baby had severe heart defects. The Belleville woman became determined to do everything possible to protect her child – which included partnering with the pediatric cardiology experts at the Children’s Heart Center at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility.

“It’s the best hospital I could ever choose for my son,” says Yohanny, whose baby boy Justin Molina had open-heart surgery at NBI when he was five months old. “Thanks to Newark Beth, my son is doing really well.” Pre-Natal Heart Care Yohanny began seeing Rajiv Verma, MD, NBI’s division director for pediatric cardiology, while she was still pregnant.

The state’s only pediatric interventional cardiologist, Dr. Verma ordered specialized tests to monitor Justin’s heart while he was still in the womb. Justin was born with a heart defect known as double inlet left ventricle, where only one chamber was functioning, rather than two. Also, his heart’s two main arteries – the pulmonary artery and aorta – were connected to the wrong chambers of the heart.

This condition, called transposition of the great arteries, prevents blood from circulating between the lungs and the body, causing a lack of oxygen in the blood. Justin would need a series of three planned operations, timed to his growth and development.

The little boy underwent his first heart surgery in New York City the day after his birth, in order to eliminate any obstructions and limit excess blood flowing into his lungs. All went well, and mother and baby continued to follow-up with Dr. Verma at NBI.

Intricate Procedures

About five months later, it was time for Justin’s second planned operation. Sunil Malhotra, MD, director of pediatric and adult congenital cardiac surgery at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at NBI, performed the delicate surgery on Justin’s tiny heart – which in infants is about the size of a strawberry.

Dr. Malhotra disconnected a major vein from Justin’s upper body to his heart and connected it to the right pulmonary artery. This enables blue blood -- which needs to be replenished with oxygen -- to flow directly to the lungs, bypassing the heart.

He also patched Justin’s narrowed pulmonary arteries, to make them big enough to provide good blood flow to the lungs. “These complex heart conditions require a skilled team that works together,” emphasizes Dr. Malhotra. “We’re the only hospital in New Jersey that offers comprehensive services for pediatric heart disease, so families don’t have to travel to New York or Philadelphia.”

Successful Outcome

After surgery at NBI, Justin “did very well,” recalls Yohanny. “I was surprised by how good he was right after the procedure. He was looking at me… He seemed comfortable, like nothing really happened!”

Over the next three weeks at NBI, Justin got “better and better,” says his mom, who stayed with her son throughout his time in the hospital. Several months later, Justin required a balloon catheterization – insertion of a fine, flexible tube tipped by a minuscule balloon, which is expanded inside the body.

Dr. Verma performed this procedure to open the wall between Justin’s left and right atrium -- the two upper chambers of the heart -- to ensure blood flows freely in and out of the heart. For now, Justin’s body receives both red and blue blood.

When he reaches 25-30 pounds – at around 2½ years old -- he will need his third and final surgery. This procedure will connect his lower body’s blood to his lung arteries. At that point, all his blue blood will go to his lungs, and all his red blood will go to his body – as with a healthy heart. “I would definitely have Dr. Malhotra perform the surgery again.

He’s a great doctor,” says Yohanny. Happy Toddler Now 19 months old, Justin “looks like a normal kid,” his mom reports. “He’s talking, playing, running -- he’s more energetic than ever!” Since his recovery, the family – including Justin’s dad and sister -- have enjoyed going to the playground and visiting with relatives together.

Justin has no restrictions, and he’s meeting his developmental milestones. With proper and consistent care, kids like Justin can have a good quality of life, says Dr. Malhotra. “We’re proud to be able to take care of these children through adulthood, thanks to our team of dedicated experts,” he states.

“I am fortunate to be part of NBI’s services,” says Yohanny. “I’m very grateful for them, and they’ve helped me every step of the way. I know they’ll keep doing so much for us.”