Thanks to Hadassah’s medical and research team led by Prof. Azaria Rein, Head of the Pediatric Cardiology Unit, a couple’s newest newborn came into this world—like his brother born in 2000—with a healthy heart, despite traditional complications of the mother’s Lupus disease.
The oldest son had been born with extreme heart failure. His mother’s Lupus caused the production of antibodies which attacked the fetal heart tissue and blocked the blood flow between the fetal heart’s natural pacemaker in the atria and the heart’s pumping chambers. He required the implantation of a permanent pacemaker to survive.
Fast forward a few years and thanks to Hadassah’s Pediatric Cardiology Research team, the later babies did not suffer the same fate. Rather, the researchers’ invention of a fetal kinetocardiogram, which enabled the physicians to analyze fetal heart rate and blood flow early in the pregnancy, made it possible to treat the heart irregularity in the fetus before the damage was irreversible. The result was the birth of a baby with a perfectly healthy heart!
It all began in 1998, when a 32-year-woman from Jerusalem with Lupus was referred to Hadassah in her 34th week of pregnancy. Her fetus had a severely low heart rate and required immediate attention. Fetal echocardiography, ultrasound of the fetal heart, revealed that the fetus had a very low heart rate—40 beats a minute rather than 160—that was causing nearly total heart failure.
At that time, surviving newborns received a pacemaker immediately after birth to correct the condition. Prof. Rein and a team of Hadassah physicians decided that delivering the baby by Caesarian section and immediately attaching an external pacemaker was the best solution. And so it was—then. The baby boy was delivered, the pacemaker connected, and his heartbeat jumped to 120 beats a minute. Eventually, a permanent pacemaker was successfully implanted in the baby’s chest.
This child, however, was born just before Hadassah’s Pediatric Cardiology Research team completed their invention of the fetal kinetocardiogram.
In 2000, when the same mother became pregnant again, the fetal heart condition was monitored from the 14th week of gestation. At 18 weeks, the first sign of heart blockage was detected. This was immediately treated with medication and the fetal heart conduction returned to normal in a few days. A few months later, she delivered a normal baby boy, with a normal heart and no need for a pacemaker. This was the first time prenatal therapy prevented a life threatening condition from developing. The Hadassah findings were published in the prestigious medical journal Circulation in 2001.
And then this extraordinary scenario was repeated when the woman became pregnant again and carried another fetus with the same condition. She and her fetus received the same monitoring and intervention and the mother delivered another healthy baby boy.
This is the only such case of repeated treatment and prevention of complete fetal heart blockage that has ever been reported.