At their 20-week anatomy scan, Olivia Bittles and her husband Bobby learned their unborn baby had esophageal atresia, a genetic condition in which the esophagus does not connect directly to the stomach. This news came as a shock. The family was referred to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital’s Fetal Care Center (FCC), where a team of specialists met with the family, discussed the diagnosis and a plan of care for their baby’s birth and the medical journey that would follow.
The Bittles met with a Fetal Care nurse navigator, who provided guidance on the next steps, scheduled the consultations and meetings with the care team. They also met with the Neonatologist, Dr. Saima Aftab, who answered any questions about the baby's diagnosis.
“They all sat down with me talked me through the process and I got to ask any and all questions. I also toured the FCC and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where she would be spending her time,” said Olivia.
Francesca was one of the first few babies born at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital where she spent several weeks after surgery to repair her esophagus. The FCC’s special delivery unit, which opened in May of 2019, enables mothers of high-risk infants to give birth at the children’s hospital where the newborn will receive care immediately after birth.
Francesca spent a month at Nicklaus Children's and underwent several surgeries and procedures to repair the esophageal atresia. Dr. Leopoldo Malvezzi, Chief of Pediatric Surgery at Nicklaus Children's Hospital, operated on baby Francesca to repair the esophageal atresia. For a week after her first surgery, a daily procedure was performed to help stretch the esophagus to reach the stomach. A second surgery was then performed to connect the two. She also had to undergo therapies to learn how to eat.
"Dr. Malvezzi was absolutely amazing on a personal level as well as medically. He spent countless hours speaking to us, before Francesca was born, to make sure we knew every step of the process and how they would perform her surgeries."
Francesca just celebrated her first birthday and is a happy and healthy toddler. Reflecting on this past year, Olivia says she is forever grateful to the Fetal Care Center for giving Francesca the best start at life.
“They have all become family to me. Not only did they help me get through the toughest times throughout my pregnancy for the next 20 weeks, the care I had during and afterward is something I will never forget."