Rare heart procedure saves tiny newborn's life

Just looking at baby Grayson Davila, you wouldn't know what he's been through. Until you see the scars on his tiny chest.

Twenty-two weeks into his mother Samantha's pregnancy, doctors at Children's Hospital Los Angeles discovered he had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a condition that leaves the left side of the heart underdeveloped.

"You can imagine, without half your heart it's hard to survive, right?" said Marco Davila, Grayson's dad.

Babies in the womb should also have a small hole in the heart to help blood flow, but Grayson's was closing up.

"You sort of feel like everything's stacked against you," Samantha Davila said.

The new parents turned to a rare procedure, called a fetal cardiac intervention, performed prenatally. Doctors inserted a long, thin needle into Samantha's womb, and then into the fetus, putting a small stent into Grayson's tiny heart. The procedure allows blood to flow back to the right side of his heart.

The procedure worked, strengthening Grayson's lungs so surgeons could perform emergency open heart surgery ten weeks later when he was born. The surgery involved helping his one heart chamber do the job of two.

Dr. Vaughn Starnes, chief executive of the Heart Institute at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, explained, "Normally, that chamber, the right ventricle, pumps blood to the lungs. Now we're asking it to pump blood to the entire body."

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Baby heart patient Grayson Davila is cuddled by his dad Marco and mom Samantha. He was born with a rare heart condition that doctors fixed.
CBS News

The cause of hypoplastic left heart syndrome is unknown, but it tends to run in families. A mother who's already had one child with the condition is at an increased risk for having another baby with it, or a similar condition, say Mayo Clinic experts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 960 babies in the U.S. are born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome each year.

With treatment, many babies survive hypoplastic left heart syndrome, but they may have future complications later in life, including tiring easily during sports, abnormal heart rhythm issues, be at a higher risk for blood clots, and there may be a need for heart transplantation.

Grayson had a difficult start in life but is now doing well. "He was born on the 19th of November and we got to hold him on the 27th. But it was worth it. It was worth the wait," Grayson's mom said.

Now, at 3 months old, Grayson's heart is functioning as expected.

He still faces two more procedures -- one when he's 6 months old and one at age 3 -- but doctors say he should live a normal, healthy life.