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Tucson doctors avoid open-heart surgery on Valentine's baby

cole and his cardiologist dr klewer.jpg
Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-14 09:39:26-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Cole Wanasek and his twin sister were born on Valentine’s Day 2020. But before their delivery, something wasn’t right.

"We noticed that the ultrasound tech did all the limbs and everything for my daughter, and then she kept going back and looking at Cole's heart and she was placing a lot of emphasis on that," says Cole's mom, Cait Wanasek.

Normally when we’re born, the right side of the heart takes the blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs. The left side of the heart does the exact opposite: It receives blood from the lungs and pumps it out to the body.

"99% of the time everything forms perfectly, but in that one percent there's something different," says Cardiologist, Dr. Mike Seckeler, Banner University Medical Center.

And that one percent was Cole.

"Sometimes the valves, which are the doors between the chambers and the arteries, don't form or open well," says Dr. Seckeler. "Sometimes they leak, sometimes vessels don't form at all or chambers don't form at all."

As you can imagine, hearing all of this would be a scary thing for parents.

"Mass panic. You know that you're not going to see that doctor unless something is wrong," says Wanasek.

Fast forward to Cole’s birth, and there was no shortage of emotions. And because Cole is a twin, mom Cait had another human being to worry about.

"They took Autumn first because she was lower. Then they took Cole and I saw him for seconds, and then they took him right away to the NICU," says Wanasek.

But it’s not all bad news! The doctors on Cole’s case saw something that looked promising.

"His right pump had grown a little bit and it looked like he might be somebody, who if he was given enough time, could actually grow back that right side of his heart and have essentially a normal heart," says Dr. Seckeler.

And because of this, Cole’s doctors wanted to avoid open-heart surgery. And guess what? They did.

"I was able to move small equipment through the blood vessels in his legs, and it let me get up into his heart and actually get across the pulmonary valve to open it with a small balloon," says Dr. Seckeler.

"He is over a year, and he has no scars on his body…at all," says Wanasek.

When it comes to going forward, Cole’s doctors say…

"The right side of his heart has really been growing and he's proven to us that he probably will be a kid who can live with a normal, four-chamber heart," says Dr. Seckeler.

"He is doing just phenomenal," says Wanasek. "He's busy. I have earrings on today, and I never wear earrings because they just get ripped out of my lobes."

So there you have it. It’s a whole lot of positive news for the Wanasek family, the doctors who made it all happen, and the baby who was gifted a working heart on Valentine’s Day.

Link to 3D heart model interview with Dr.Seckeler: