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Baby Beau

At three-and-a-half months old, Beau made Texas medical history when the hole in his tiny heart was closed with the help of a specialized, minimally invasive surgical technique offered at Children’s Heart Institute at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.

Jessica and Andrew learned their baby boy, Beau, had a congenital heart defect (CHD) when Beau was only one week old. A hole – called a ventricular septal defect (VSD) – was discovered in the muscle that separates the two ventricles of Beau’s heart, disrupting his heart’s ability to efficiently pump blood to other parts of his body.

Beau’s VSD had put undue stress on his body, tiring him quickly and inhibiting his ability to eat and nourish himself. He was burning more calories than he could consume while attempting to breast feed.

“We were told that some VSDs close on their own, but Beau’s likely would require surgery,” Jessica said. “We also learned it was a relatively common condition, so that reassured us a little bit and we tried to keep perspective.”

Beau’s cardiologist referred him to Children’s Heart Institute for surgical repair.

A novel approach to CHD repair

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Beau with his big sister, Breelyn

Affiliated pediatric and congenital heart surgeon, Ali Dodge-Khatami, MD, PhD, has pioneered the repair of CHDs in the U.S. in a novel way, by accessing the heart through an incision under the right arm. The cosmetic benefit of the innovative approach, called a right axillary thoracotomy, is the absence of the large vertical scar on the chest that is characteristic of traditional open heart surgery.

The approach spares muscles from being severed, typically requires less pain medication after surgery, and can result in a shorter hospital stay than traditional open heart surgery. For female patients, it removes the risk of damaging tissue that could lead to uneven breast growth.

Most importantly, the approach has produced positive outcomes among infants, children and adolescents, who are able to return to normal activity in days instead of weeks.

“There are only benefits to this approach for the patient,” Dr. Dodge-Khatami said. “The holes and valves we want to repair are best accessed through the right chest. It’s a window to the heart for a surgeon.”

Since 2005, Dr. Dodge-Khatami has performed more than 200 right axillary thoracotomies to repair CHDs in Europe and the U.S. He brought the approach to the U.S. in 2013, and to Texas in July 2018 when he joined Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth as director of pediatric heart surgery.

First child in Texas

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Beau and family reunite with Dr. Ali Dodge-Khatami

Beau was Dr. Dodge-Khatami’s first patient in Texas, and he became the first child in the state to undergo a right axillary thoracotomy for CHD repair on the morning of Monday, July 9, when he was around three-and-a-half months old.

One day after surgery, Beau had enough energy to successfully breastfeed for the first time since he was three weeks old. The following day, he no longer needed pain medication.

That Friday, 4 days after surgery, Jessica and Andrew got to take Beau home. On Saturday, he showed no signs of discomfort or pain from his surgical wound. His parents could pick him up under his arms, as they did before surgery.

Jessica and Andrew quipped their only worry now is keeping up with Beau’s newfound appetite – not pain medication, or a heart problem, or a telltale scar on Beau’s chest that would grow with him into adulthood.

“Beau’s recovery was wonderful and we couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Now we can focus on those normal milestones and Beau being a normal baby,” Jessica said.

Children’s Heart Institute

Children’s Heart Institute at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital offers innovative solutions for patients with congenital or acquired heart disease. In collaboration with affiliated pediatric subspecialists at McGovern Medical School, the team provides comprehensive care for newborns, children and adolescents, with a smooth transition into adult congenital cardiac care.

Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital was named one of the top 50 best children's hospitals nationally in Cardiology & Heart Surgery by U.S. News & World Report, and Children’s Heart Institute earned the distinguished three-star rating from The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) for patient care and outcomes in congenital heart surgery. As one of only 12 three star programs, Children’s Heart Institute is among the elite for congenital heart surgery in the United States and Canada.

With the Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and a dedicated Children’s Heart Institute Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, critical heart patients have access to the highest level of specialized care. By utilizing state-of-the-art techniques, the team at Children’s Heart Institute strives to offer patients with the most complex problems the greatest opportunity for a normal life.

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The Children’s Heart Institute at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital is affiliated with the physicians at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and the UT Physicians Pediatric Outpatient Clinics across Greater Houston. Affiliated physicians evaluate patients at UT Physicians clinic locations and perform all inpatient procedures and treatments at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.