North Shore doctors save life of infant in the womb

Drs. Micheline Chiu (back l.-r.), Angela Romano and Nidhi Vohra reunite with Suzanne Francis, baby Dante Francis, father Robert Francis and big sister Madeline at North Shore University Hospital after saving little Dante's life. Photo courtesy North Shore University Hospital
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A Long Island family returned to North Shore University Hospital last week to thank doctors for saving their infant son’s life — before he was even born.

Little Dante Francis, whose mother Suzanne Francis, of Huntington, L.I., was 4 1/2 months pregnant, was diagnosed in utero at 13 weeks with a large pericardial effusion — a potentially life-threatening heart condition where there is a dangerous accumulation of fluid within the pericardium that can decrease the amount of blood pumped from the heart.

The fluid buildup around the heart can lead to heart failure and compress the lungs.

Doctors at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, L.I., decided that an in utero procedure was necessary while Dante was still in his mother’s womb so his lungs could grow normally.

The procedure was only one of 10 recorded in worldwide medical literature and the first of its kind performed in New York.

When Dante’s mother was just 18 weeks into her pregnancy, a team of maternal and fetal experts at North Shore and pediatric specialists from nearby Cohen Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park performed an in-utero pericardiocentesis on Dante’s heart, which was only the size of a quarter at the time of the operation.

Using ultrasound technology for guidance, Dr. Nidhi Vohra, associate chief of maternal/fetal medicine at North Shore and director of prenatal diagnosis at the North Shore-LIJ Health System, inserted a needle through Suzanne Francis’ abdomen and guided it into the pericardial sac.

About 1/2 teaspoon of fluid was drained from the fetal pericardial sac, which is considered a lot for a heart so tiny.

“This is an extremely rare procedure — so rare, in fact, that there are only 10 reported procedures of this type in medical literature,” Vohra said. “We’re so proud of the fact that, working together as a team, we were able to achieve this wonderful result.”

Dante, his mother, father Robert Francis and 4-year-old sister Madeline were introduced to the doctors who saved Dante’s life last Thursday at North Shore.

They were greeted by Dr. Angela Romano, a pediatric cadiologist at Cohen’s, who performed fetal echocardiograms during the pregnancy, and Dr. Micheline Chu, a reproductive endocrinologist at North Shore’s Center for Human Reproduction, who performed the intrauterine insemination that started little Dante’s journey to life.

“We are especially happy to see the family here today and to celebrate Dante’s first 10 months of life,” Vohra said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 12:57 pm, September 22, 2011
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