Rare Heart Tumour Forces Mom to Make Tough Choice

Pregnancy is full of tough decisions, but few are as difficult as the choice Sadie Stout faced, six months into her first pregnancy.

Sadie Stout with baby Bentley

After being diagnosed with a rare heart tumor, Sadie had to choose whether to take the safe route for herself or give her unborn son a better chance at life.

It all started with heart palpitations.  She had been experiencing fatigue and shortness of breath, but it was easy to explain those symptoms away as a normal part of pregnancy and being asthmatic.  But, heart palpitations, while at rest on the couch, gave both Sadie and her mother cause for concern.

Fortunately, Sadie’s mom, Louise Chambers, works as a housekeeper in the cardiorespiratory ward at Thunder Bay Regional Health Centre.  She asked one of the cardiologists if her daughter’s symptoms warranted investigation.

The cardiologist suggested she have an echocardiogram, to rule out any problems.

There was a problem, a cardiac myxoma, and four days later, Sadie and Louise were flying to Toronto for treatment at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at Toronto General Hospital.

Cardiac myxoma is a gelatinous tumor, in the heart, with dozens of fanning fronds.  Sadie’s tumor was three centimeters across and growing in the upper left chamber of her heart.  These tumors are often benign.  The danger is that the tumor will break off and flow through the body, lodging in the brain, and causing a stroke.

Sadie’s cardiac surgeon, Dr. R. J. Cusimano, explains, “The problem is, your heart beats 100,000 times a day, so these things have 100,000 chances a day to be knocked off and go flying.”

The tumor is rare enough, in itself, but the situation was made more unusual – and dangerous – by the fact that Sadie was expecting.

She underwent rigorous testing and was seen by 22 doctors including, cardiologists, heart surgeons, obstetricians, pediatricians, and anesthesiologists.  The stress took its toll emotionally.

“I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life,” Sadie recalls.

In the end, she was given three gut-wrenching options.

  1. The tumor could be removed immediately, eliminating the risk to Sadie’s health but placing the life of her baby in jeopardy.  This option meant a 30 percent chance that her baby would not survive the operation and if he did live, he would probably face an uphill battle with physical and developmental difficulties.
  2. Deliver the baby by C-section and then have heart surgery.  This option meant the baby would be 2 ½ months early and Sadie would have to be monitored carefully to be sure the tumor didn’t break off during the delivery.
  3. Sadie could wait until the baby was more developed and then have the C-section and heart surgery.  This option presented the greatest risk to her health as the tumor was a time bomb waiting to go off.

Dr. Kellie Murphy, one of the high-risk obstetricians working on Sadie’s case at Mount Sinai hospital, felt all three options were equal.

“All of us were really not sure which way to go,” Murphy said.  “I could have gone around and made good arguments for each one.”

“Any decision she made would have been right because it would have been the right one for her,” Murphy said.

Sadie chose a compromise she was comfortable with.

“I decided I would have him before doing anything with me.  I wanted him to have a chance to survive before me.  There was no way I would be able to do the surgery while being pregnant knowing there was a chance he would die from it.”

Sadie had the C-section and less than 36 hours later, underwent major heart surgery.

Both operations went well.  Bentley was born weighing three pounds.  He remains in isolation at the Thunder Bay Health Centre.

Being born at 28 weeks presents Bently with long-term risks like deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy, and developmental delays.

Sadie’s operation lasted four hours during which Dr. Cusimano removed the tumor and meticulously reconstructed her heart.

Only five days later, though still in a great deal of pain, Sadie was discharged from Toronto General so she could go across the street to Mount Sinai and start bonding with her son.

“I had so much ambition to be good for Bentley that made me get up and get better sooner,” Sadie recalls. – Jen R, Staff Writer

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About the author

Jen R

Jen R should have been a spy; she would have been really great at it. Instead, she has found limitless happiness raising a future international man of mystery. She is a writer, a maker of suppers, a kisser of boo boos and a finder of lost things. She would always prefer to watch politics than sports and will never watch a soap opera...ever.

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