Grandmother recalls in-utero procedure on baby's heart
By Robert Mackenzie
Published Aug. 10, 2017
After a groundbreaking medical procedure, more than a week in the hospital and a mini press tour, Kristine Barry and Christopher Havill were finally able to bring their newborn Sebastian Havill up to Haliburton to meet his family.
Barry, 25, grew up in West Guilford and Havill, 27, moved to Minden when he was entering Grade 10. The two met in their senior year at HHSS and have been together for eight years ever since.
Havill’s mother, Sandra Heywood, was at her home in Minden when she first heard about the life-threatening heart condition the couple’s baby was diagnosed with.
“I think originally when they started talking about it we didn’t realize it was as severe as it was,” Heywood said. “It’s kind of heartbreaking because as a parent you’re there with your kid and they’re getting this awful news and there’s nothing you can do to help them.”
In January, an ultrasound revealed that Sebastian suffered from a severe form of transposition of the great arteries (TGA), a rare disease where the two arteries that connect to a heart are switched, which prevents a baby from receiving oxygen once he or she is born
Sebastian, now 11 weeks old, was born May 23, but had already made history five days earlier after receiving what is believed to be the first ever balloon atrial septoplasty surgery performed in utero to treat his heart defect.
Sebastian is one of five to seven per cent of babies with a congenital heart defect affected by TGA. But unlike others, both walls in Sebastian’s heart were closed shut, which would have further prevented his blood from receiving oxygen after birth.
Because of this, doctors devised a plan to perform the balloon procedure that is normally done after birth while Sebastian was still in his mother’s uterus. Without this procedure, Dr. Rajiv Chaturvedi, a cardiologist at the Hospital for Sick Children, said in a press release that doctors would have only had about three minutes to open Sebastian’s heart at birth before he became at risk for stroke, brain damage and even death.
“At the time it didn’t really occur to us how groundbreaking this procedure was and how much it would help other babies in the future and what it meant for medicine in general,” Barry said. “Now thinking about it we’re quite proud of Sebastian and what he was able to do.”
Both Barry and Havill’s parents were helpful from the time of Sebastian’s diagnosis all the way to his birth. “They were very supportive, they were good at asking questions to clarify exactly what the procedure would be,” Barry said.
Heywood remembers sitting in the Sick Kids waiting room with Barry’s mother, Sharon, during Sebastian’s balloon procedure. Heywood says she and Sharon kept glancing at the screen that lists the patients and the operating rooms they’re in, waiting to see if Barry, B (B for Baby) was moved to a different operating room than Barry, K, which would have meant that something went wrong and an emergency delivery was required.
But in the end, the procedure went as planned. Five days later Sebastian was born at Mount Sinai Hospital and was later sent to Sick Kids for open heart surgery that corrected his heart condition.
Heywood says that it was her son and daughter-in-law’s positivity throughout the process that helped her and the family deal with the situation. “It’s like they had blinders on and this was going to be all right and they never strayed from that thought. They were just completely focused ... and it kind of rubbed off on us.”
Just a few weekends ago, Sebastian made a trip to his parents’ old stomping grounds and went for his first ever camping trip at his grandparents’ campsite on Kelly Lake near the Haliburton Forest.
Barry said the camping wasn’t too lively, as Sebastian slept most of the time. “The fresh air really made him go to sleep,” she said.
Sebastian also made a stop in Minden that weekend to see his other grandmother, although Heywood says she has driven down to Barrie to see her grandson almost every weekend since he was given a clean bill of health and returned home.
Since his birth, Sebastian has been featured on CBC, Global, CTV and in the Toronto Star, along with being the cover boy for the hospital’s latest news magazine. Heywood has recorded his TV appearances and is laminating all the articles he appears in.
“I’m watching the news reports like ‘oh my God, I can’t believe it.’ It’s shocking that all of that took place, and I don’t even know what words to use,” Heywood said. “Look at him, he’s awesome ... It’s amazing, he’s amazing.”