Mending the Third Heart in a Quartet of Daughters
A Donor Milk Recipient Story
May 3, 2021
Twenty weeks into her pregnancy, Ashlea was expecting a normal sonogram. Everything seemed to be progressing normally and life was busy in Weatherford, Texas raising two daughters and preparing for a third.
The first routine ultrasound for most pregnant women is scheduled between 18-22 weeks. High-frequency sound waves produce images that evaluate a baby’s overall anatomy and measure a baby’s spine, organs, limbs and umbilical cord. It’s also an opportunity to hear the baby’s heartbeat and possibly plan for a gender-reveal.
Unfortunately, Ashlea’s experience ended up being shocking and stressful. Images of the baby’s heart revealed a serious defect called double outlet right ventricle also known as DORV. The heart’s chambers were not divided normally, and the baby’s aorta was connected to the right ventricle instead of the left ventricle. Once born, Ashlea’s baby would experience dangerously low oxygen levels and eventual heart failure.
High-risk maternal health specialists stepped in and arrangements began for the first of three corrective surgeries to take place within 24 hours of the baby’s birth. Ashlea was induced at 39 weeks and Sydni arrived on December 3, 2018 at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth before being quickly transferred to Cook Children’s Medical Center for open heart surgery.
The recovery roller coaster officially began when eight days later, an unplanned surgery was required to revise Sydni’s shunt. From there, challenges with weight gain and severe reflux caused numerous ups and downs and 82 days were spent between the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and step-down unit at Cook Children’s.
Amazingly, through all the stress, Ashlea was able to pump breastmilk for Sydni for eleven months. When her supply eventually decreased, Sydni’s pediatrician wrote a prescription for donor milk, connecting the family to Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas. Now at two-years old, Sydni still receives donor milk at night through a G-tube and is working on eating solid food during the day.
Ashlea describes donor human milk as a true blessing and credits the immunological benefits for keeping Sydni strong. She says, “Sydni has been very healthy which isn’t typical of most heart babies. Even with two sisters at home, ages 5 and 8, she has been very resilient to germs and viruses.”
Sydni’s journey of healing will continue with a fourth and final corrective surgery in the next few weeks. Then in September, Sydni will become a big sister too.
Ashlea is currently pregnant with her fourth child, another girl, who thankfully isn’t at risk for Sydni’s nongenetic heart defect. She jokes that if the family starts music lessons in the future, they could end up with an all-girl quartet. Mostly, she’s excited and thankful the four girls will have a special bond of sisterhood as well as four healthy hearts.