When a California family learned of their unborn baby’s heart defect, they were willing to move to receive the best care for their family. Their ultimate destination? Cincinnati.
In early 2020, Laura and Regan Hagestad were happily living in Hermosa Beach near Los Angeles with their three children. Laura was also pregnant with their fourth child, and the family was thrilled about the new baby’s arrival later that year.
Laura’s 20-week ultrasound proved to be anything but routine. The doctor said the baby had a congenital heart defect and referred the family to a local Los Angeles hospital for further testing. The official diagnoses would include a ventricular septal defect (VSD), a congenital heart defect where a hole is present in the wall separating the two heart ventricles, or lower chambers; a coarctation of the aor- ta — a defect characterized by a narrower aorta; and an atrial septal defect (ASD), a hole in the area between the heart’s upper chambers. The baby would need surgery soon after birth.
The Hagestads praised the doctors at their local hospital in Los Angeles for spotting the coarctation of the aorta, which can often go undetected for years and create long-term health issues. Then, they asked where they could find the best surgeons and best care for their child before birth and for years after.
The answer was Cincinnati Children’s.
Cincinnati Children’s Fetal Heart Program within the Heart Institute offers comprehensive care for mothers and their babies from pregnancy through the early postpartum period. In addition, Cincinnati Children’s Fetal Care Center offers a state-of-the-art Special Delivery Unit, in collaboration with TriHealth, that allows pregnant mothers carrying babies diagnosed with complex and rare fetal conditions, including heart defects, to deliver at Cincinnati Children’s. This eliminates the need for transporting the baby for specialized cardiac care after birth, and it allows the mother to re- main close by during the procedure. The Fetal Care Center has six delivery suites and an antenatal suite for assessment before labor and delivery.
“In addition to making an accurate diagnosis, educating the family about the diagnosis, and coordinating care, the Fetal Heart Program is committed to supporting families at a very difficult time,” said James Cnota, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist and Fetal Heart Program director. “In addition to the care the program provides through mental health expertise and social services, we are actively engaged in studying new and better ways to improve the well-being of both patients — mother and baby.”
Laura’s doctor in California had worked with Dr. Cnota in the past. The doctor also recommended James Tweddell, M.D., Executive Co-Director and Director of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Heart Institute, who has an international reputation as a pediatric heart surgeon. This put Cincinnati Children’s on the radar for the Hagestads.
The Hagestads also recognized that in the LA area, Laura would give birth in one hospital while the baby was transferred to another. The stress of separation, and the likelihood of spending hours in LA traffic to visit the baby, only solidified their gut feeling about Cincinnati Children’s.
“It’s hard enough as a mom to hear them tell you ‘we’re going to have to take your baby right after you deliver,’ but knowing that he would be close to us made it a little bit easier,” Laura said.
Coincidentally, Laura is a native of Northern Kentucky. Moving to Cincinnati felt like going home.
At the end of June, in the middle of a pandemic, the Hagestads uprooted their lives and made the drive west to Ohio. The baby, a boy they’d name Wyatt, arrived in September 2020.
“The setup was top notch,” Regan said. “We went there in the morning, Laura delivered, Wyatt was with us, and we literally just went up the elevator to see him all the time. We also had our own room. Even after Laura’s recovery was done, we had our own room for us and Wyatt. A lot of facilities don’t have that. It made a difficult experience much better.”
Children with congenital heart defects continue to receive regular screenings at the Heart Institute and additional procedures when needed. Wyatt’s checkups have gone smoothly, with no indica- tion of lingering heart issues.
Wyatt’s three older siblings are enjoying their baby brother, and their parents couldn’t be more pleased with their new life in Cincinnati.
“We’re just so blessed as a family to be able to call Cincinnati Children’s our home hospital,” Laura said. “To have Dr. Cnota and Dr. Tweddell save our boy’s life is really remarkable.”
For more information about the Cincinnati Children’s Fetal Heart Program, visit cincinnatichildrens.org/fetal-heart or call 513.636.9931.