Life-Saving Pregnancy Results in Diagnosis of Rare Heart Tumor

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Learning she might have Takayasu arteritis turned out to be a life-saving blessing in disguise for Catherine Glennon of Springfield.

Takayasu arteritis is a rare chronic inflammatory condition that affects how the aorta and its branches deliver blood throughout the body. Her rheumatologist diagnosed the condition after Glennon was experiencing pain and numbness in her right foot.

Surprised to learn about her condition, Glennon soon had another surprise waiting for her.

I found out that I was expecting a baby. My husband, Tom, and I already had an 8-year-old son and hadn’t anticipated having any other children,” Glennon said.

Knowing that Takayasu arteritis can cause pregnancy complications, such as preterm birth or miscarriage, Glennon’s midwife at Baystate Midwifery & Women's Health recommended that she meet with one of Baystate Medical Center's maternal fetal medicine specialists.

A Remarkable Doctor

“I remember going to see Dr. Diana Rodriguqez. She was remarkable....just the best. She researched my disorder completely and its effects on pregnancy, and she put a whole plan together with questions to ask my rheumatologist," Glennon said.

During spring vacation last April, Glennon and her son participated in a school trip to Italy.

“It was the end of my second trimester, and I was pretty exhausted. But, there weren’t any health reasons why I shouldn’t go, and it was a wonderful whirlwind trip. I came back home to a litany of doctor’s appointments and met again with Dr. Rodriguez. She had spoken to my rheumatologist, who didn’t express any worries over my pregnancy,” Glennon said.

Still, Dr. Rodriguez thought it was best to order a maternal echocardiogram – an ultrasound of the heart – as an extra precaution since the disease could cause heart problems.

“I remember going in for the procedure on an early Friday morning in May. The tech told me they were going to take a bunch of pictures and that the doctor would review and call me. But, instead of going home as I anticipated, I was sent immediately over to the hospital’s Women’s Evaluation and Treatment Unit, where a team of doctors and others were waiting for me,” Glennon said.

Some Disturbing News

And that’s when the story changed for her.

Dr. Andrew Healy, a high-risk perinatologist from Baystate Maternal Fetal Medicine came in to share some disturbing news. She had an atrial myoxoma, a noncancerous tumor of the heart.

“The news sounded pretty overwhelming to me. I was very surprised to learn about the tumor because I didn’t really have any symptoms to speak of,” Glennon said.

There were several concerns to consider in expediting Glennon’s treatment. The first was the need to deliver the baby before undergoing open heart surgery.

“A full-term pregnancy is 39 weeks and Catherine was already well along into her pregnancy at 34 weeks. Although preterm, we know that babies tend to do well when born at that point, and that our neonatal intensive care unit could provide any extra care that the baby would need. Because of the additional strain vaginal birth would put on her heart, for mother’s safety a C-section was scheduled for the next day,” Dr. Healy said.

Quinn was born on Saturday, June 1, 2019, at just under six pounds and was otherwise healthy. He needed to spend one week in the NICU so that his lungs could further develop.

An Impressive Staff

“I was really impressed with the obstetrics staff….everyone was absolutely wonderful. We all got so much support from the nurses, doctors, and patient care techs in the OB, NICU and Cardiac departments. They had a lot of empathy with what we were going through” Glennon said.

After delivering Quinn, Glennon was visited on the weekend by cardiac surgeon Dr. David Deaton of the hospital’s Heart & Vascular Program. He explained the open heart surgery Glennon was about to undergo and attempted to alleviate any fears she might have.

“These benign tumors of the left atrium can sometimes be quite large like Catherine’s. Also, just as in her case, they are often asymptomatic and are discovered incidentally in a patient who might be undergoing tests for another health reason,” Dr. Deaton said.

“These tumors are quite rare, but I have seen a couple of them. Any surgery, especially open heart surgery, presents a risk to any patient, but when everything is considered, this was a low-risk surgery for Catherine,” he added.

Never A Second Thought

Following her successful surgery, Glennon was placed in the Cardiac ICU for two days and was discharged several days later.

Today all restrictions have been lifted. She can live a normal life again with her healthy little baby.

When Glennon chose Baystate Health doctors to perform the delicate cardiac procedure, she says she never gave it a second thought.

“We grew up around Baystate, just a mile up the road, and I was a Student Ambassador there while in high school. I moved away to D.C. for a while, but eventually returned home. I hadn’t been to Baystate for a while, but a few years ago my son needed to go to the emergency room and I was very impressed with his care,” Glennon said. “Since all of this has happened, every time we drive by, he shouts ‘Thanks, Baystate!’”

Dr. Healy reflected on the challenging and complicated case. It required the teamwork of doctors from maternal fetal medicine, obstetrics, cardiology, cardiac surgery and anesthesiology to provide the best possible patient outcome for Glennon.

“This is what practicing the best possible medicine is all about for our patients. Each of us from our own unique discipline and perspective gathering together quickly in a collegial fashion to discuss a plan to optimize patient safety, in this case for mother, fetus and the baby,” he said.

Learn more about Baystate's Heart & Vascular Program.

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