Sara Berejuk and her husband Daniel were expecting twins when Sara's water broke unexpectedly on December 8, 2019. She was only 24 weeks along in her pregnancy.
"We were so scared. We waited a very long time to have the opportunity to grow our family," she said.
Sara had an emergency C-section to deliver the twins, and devastatingly, one baby did not survive. The other baby, a boy named Jackson, was fighting for his life weighing only one pound.
Jackson was suffering from a brain bleed and was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect called patent ductus arteriosus (PDA).; PDA occurs commonly in premature infants when a vessel that connects the pulmonary artery to the aorta does not close in the first few days of life, allowing too much blood flow into the lungs.
"Jackson was so tiny and required oxygen around the clock," said Sara. "He was so fragile." They were referred to Nicklaus Children's Hospital to repair his heart.
Dr. Lourdes Prieto, Interventional Cardiologist with the Heart Institute, has extensive experience in PDA closures in premature infants and offers minimally invasive options for premature infants weighing as little as one kilogram, an option available at only a few children's hospitals in the nation.
Treatment for ductus arteriosus varies, depending on the baby's weight and the size of the opening. Although surgery has been the traditional method of repair for very small premature babies, some interventional cardiology programs are equipped to perform this less invasive technique for premature infants who meet criteria.
“When Jackson arrived at Nicklaus Children's he was weighing a little over a pound and was on a breathing tube. We provided the family with all the options to repair his PDA. He was an ideal candidate for the non-surgical technique as it would help his tiny body heal quicker and continue to grow”, said Dr. Prieto.
Closing the PDA via a cardiac catheterization is a non-surgical option that involves a small incision in the groin to reach a blood vessel, decreasing recovery time and improving outcomes for the patient. Nicklaus Children's Hospital now offers PDA closures using the FDA-approved Amplatzer Piccolo Occluder, a self-expanding, wire mesh device to seal the opening in the heart.
Jackson was a different baby after the procedure. He no longer required breathing support and became more alert each day.
“He is a true miracle,” said Sara, describing her active and engaged little boy who turns 3 in December. She noted that developmentally Jackson has always met or exceeded every milestone. He loves playing outdoors, swimming, riding his tricycle and is “obsessed” with playgrounds, where he climbs and slides with enthusiasm. He loves books and reading, and can identify every letter of the alphabet and spell his own name. Jackson also knows all numbers up to 20 and enjoys demonstrating his counting prowess. And last but not least, a favorite Jackson activity is working with his dad on an old family truck, where he can explore his fascination with tools.
“We always say that it is very evident that Jackson enjoys every second of his life. Everyone who knows him describes him as a joyous child. We are so grateful for the life we have as a family and to Dr. Prieto and the Heart Institute for the excellent care they provided that helped make today possible," she said.