Women's Health

September 14, 2017

Teamwork key to saving heart patient and her baby

As people in Middle Tennessee were experiencing the remnants of Hurricane Harvey during the early hours of Sept. 1, Catherine Hurt was battling another storm of her own.

Sam and Catherine Hurt visit with their newborn son, Leeland, in the Stahlman Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. (photo by Joe Howell)

As people in Middle Tennessee were experiencing the remnants of Hurricane Harvey during the early hours of Sept. 1, Catherine Hurt was battling another storm of her own.

At 33-weeks pregnant, Hurt was told she had an aortic dissection, a diagnosis that had taken the lives of her mother and younger brother.

Acute type A aortic dissection is a tear that begins in the ascending aorta and progresses throughout the vessel, often extending as far as the arteries in the leg and requires emergency intervention to prevent death from stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure or bleeding.

Hurt, from Ohio County, Kentucky, needed immediate, life-saving surgery that her local hospital was unable to provide. With the clock ticking, physicians at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) began preparing for Hurt and her unborn child’s arrival.

“Aortic dissection is a deadly disease with few options for successful outcome save urgent surgery,” said Joshua Beckman, M.D., M.Sc., director of Vanderbilt’s Section of Vascular Medicine. “To have this occur during the third-trimester of pregnancy only increases the risk.

“The cardiac surgical, high-risk obstetrics and neonatal team demonstrated why Vanderbilt is a special place, ready to care for our patients who walk in to the facility and for those for whom we are the last line of hope,” said Beckman.

While J Newton, M.D., assistant professor of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and director of Labor and Delivery, performed the cesarean section to save the baby, Matthew Danter, M.D., assistant professor of Cardiac Surgery, repaired the aortic dissection.

The concurrent emergency surgeries required a collaborative effort, said Newton.

“The communication between the teams allowed for a successful outcome,” Newton said. “During her drive from Kentucky in the rain, we had time to coordinate her plan with the whole cardiac team as well as obstetrics and NICU teams.”

Danter agreed that the ability to coordinate care provided the teams the best opportunity for optimal outcomes.

“An aortic dissection of this kind is one of the most serious injuries the human body can endure,” said Danter. “The complications from a dissection can be devastating. This case was further complicated by a viable pregnancy, placing two lives at stake.

“We were all our best selves during this case,” Danter said, stressing the team mentality. “It’s a great example of how a tertiary care center, equipped with the expertise to handle complicated cases, provides coordinated, efficient and premier care.”

Hurt, 32, is grateful for the expert care.

After she was released from Vanderbilt, her newborn, Leeland, continues to recover at the Medical Center. Hurt has secured lodging close by for her follow-up care and hopes to take her son home in a few weeks.

“The chances were slim to none for our survival and it was terrifying,” said Hurt, who has four other children. “Lucky for us, the doctors were ready and waiting when we arrived.

“I knew immediately when they said the diagnosis what I was up against. I didn’t give in to the thoughts that this could be the end. I focused on the fight.”

Sam Hurt, Catherine’s husband, is calling his wife’s and newborn son’s survivals miraculous.

“It’s really hard to describe it all,” he said. “It was traumatizing. We are very fortunate to be here. We’ve gotten the best care and treatment.”