Zoë Bower was 18 weeks pregnant when she and husband Dan received devastating news during a prenatal ultrasound: The fetus had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a hole in the diaphragm muscle that would make breathing impossible at birth.
The prognosis for a fetus with CDH is uncertain. The couple consulted with physicians at our Center for Fetal and Maternal Health, a multifaceted team with deep experience in explaining fetal diagnoses, managing complex pregnancies, and caring for high-risk infants and children.
Zoë recalls her family’s first consultation with Susan Hintz, MD, the center’s director, “We really needed to know: Is this hopeless or can we make a go for it?”
CDH carries serious risks, but depending on the prenatal findings, and with expert medical and surgical care for the baby, many patients thrive.
“It’s hard to describe how incredibly soothing—not naively optimistic but just caring—they were,” Dan says. “They spent at least an hour with us, answered every question we had and gave us hope.”
Together with Zoe and Dan, the team began planning for the arrival of a baby girl; Eloise. The family learned about Eloise's prognosis and got hands-on preparation for her birth,
including a tour of our neonatal intensive care unit and an introduction to the different kinds of breathing-support machines that might help Eloise after her birth.
Meanwhile, Hintz and team were making sure that all the specialists who needed to weigh in had consulted on Eloise’s case.
“Knowing that multiple people are reviewing the diagnostic tests and looking at them from different angles, with different expertise, was very reassuring,” Zoë says.
About 15 caregivers were present when Eloise was born and provided immediate care. Dan went with the care team to the NICU, and watched as they worked to help his newborn daughter breathe.
It took nine hours of intense attention from the medical team, but finally Eloise was getting enough oxygen from an oscillator, a specialized ventilator that keeps the lungs continuously open.
Nine days later, Eloise received the surgical repair she needed, returning home at age six weeks. Now, more than a year later, Eloise is running around, eating like a champ, and having fun with her big sister.
And the team at the Center for Fetal and Maternal Health is preparing for the next families with complex fetal and maternal diagnoses. "We look forward to being able to help many more patients in the future," says Hintz.