While in her 32nd week of pregnancy, Jeanette Shiel sensed that something wasn’t right with her baby and she was right. Tests revealed that the baby was suffering from a critical heart condition and while his parents prayed, one day old baby Rudy’s life was saved after he became one of the youngest patients in Britain to undergo open heart surgery.
Jeannette manages a residential centre for young adults with learning difficulties. When she was expecting Rudy, knew something was wrong.
‘We knew 32 weeks into the pregnancy that something was badly wrong and it was devastating,’ she says. ‘Our world fell apart and we really thought there was no hope.
The baby inside the womb was found to have a condition of the heart called Critical Aortic Stenosis and the only thing that could save the his life was open heart surgery.
Says Jeanette, “After a second scan, our heart specialist was really honest with us and explained that although it was very serious, there was something they could do. It was great news and it gave us hope that Rudy might survive.’
Doctors at UK’s Birmingham Children’s Hospital decided to induce the labor at 37 weeks so that they could take the best possible measure to save the baby.
Paediatric Intensive Care Consultant Fiona Reynolds, at Birmingham Children’s Hospital said the surgery was a very high risk operation.
“Because the valve was so narrow – no wider than a pinhole – the left side of Rudy’s heart had been under enormous strain as a foetus and this meant that his heart muscle was hugely weakened. At first it was working at only 20 per cent of normal power and he was so weak that he couldn’t even move his hands. It was almost as if his heart muscle had been running a marathon for the duration of the pregnancy,” says Fiona.
A team of 20 medical staff operated on the baby, who was only 36 hours old, using microscopic cameras to unblock a valve that was no larger than a pinhole.
But the surgery was just the first challenge. Baby Rudy had to be put onto a machine called the Extra-Corporeal Life Support machine (ECLS) that functioned as his heart and lungs for two days. It was bought for the hospital by Next retail tycoon George Davies after his baby granddaughter Evie survived a heart problem in 2006.
Fortunately, the operation was a success.
His mum Jeanette said, ‘His life was hanging in the balance. It’s a real miracle that he’s still here. There were several crises during the first two weeks after the operation, when Rudy’s pressures dropped alarmingly and his life hung in the balance.”
‘At times there were up to 20 Intensive Care staff working to stabilise his condition, but he finally pulled through. He faces several more operations to correct the problem but is looking far stronger and more alert.’
Rudy’s dad 40 year old Rupert Maxwell-Jones recalls how terrified he was that he might lose his son.
‘He was really blue when he was born,’ he explains. ‘It was terrifying to see all the tubes coming out of him, keeping him alive. But the change in him has been remarkable. He’s still in Intensive Care but he’s just come off the ventilator and he’s getting stronger all the time.
‘To look at him now you’d hardly think it was the same baby. He’s breathing well; he’s got a good colour. And he’s busy flirting with the nurses who all make a great fuss of him!’
Fiona warns that it is really the post surgery care that is vital for Rudy but says the baby is already showing the signs of his fighting spirit.
‘For him the after-surgery care is vital,’ she explains. ‘He’s had a rocky time in Intensive Care because he’s so delicate. But yesterday he pulled his own breathing tube out and he’s now breathing by himself for the first time.It’s fantastic to see him becoming more robust by the day, and we expect his heart muscle to repair itself so he should be able to live a virtually normal life in the future.’
Rudy is five weeks old and growing strong every day at the hospital. His parents are now backing the push needed to raise £500,000 needed to complete the hospital’s £2 million Children’s Heart Appeal.
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Screen Caps via Sunday Mercury