Jackson Straits has defied the odds. Diagnosed with non-immune fetal hydrops at 27 weeks gestation, this often fatal form of prenatal heart failure caused Jackson to develop fluid around his heart.
Strong family faith along with the care of 3 Akron Children’s specialists came together to give him the best chance at life, and now Jackson is a happy, thriving baby.
Lisa Straits thought she already knew the ropes of pregnancy since she had already been through the drill twice before. Her pregnancy was going as planned until her 27th week, when an ultrasound showed Jackson was collecting fluid around his lungs and abdomen due to an increased heart rate, also known as arterial flutter.
Dr. Mancuso advised bed rest and constant monitoring. Lisa began her 31-day stint on bed rest at Akron General Medical Center on Feb. 25 and was transported to the maternal fetal medicine center at Akron Children’s Hospital every 48 hours.
During those monitoring visits, maternal-fetal cardiologist C.R. Patel performed ultrasounds and Dr. Mancuso administered in vitro heart medications to help manage Jackson’s rapid-fire heart rhythms.
While a typical baby’s heart beats between 110-160 beats per minute, Jackson’s heart was beating 220 beats a minute.
The team’s goal was to manage Jackson’s heart rate and slow down the rate of fluid collection so he could make it to at least 32-weeks gestation.
“All the literature on babies with hydrops showed that babies born before 32 weeks gestation don’t survive,” said Dr. Patel. “I wanted to get Jackson past that milestone if at all possible.”
There were times when the staff was pessimistic about the goal.
“We were never able to completely control Jackson’s arrhythmia despite numerous medications given both to Lisa and also in utero to Jackson,” said Dr. John Clark, arrhythmia center director at Akron Children’s Hospital. “You have to closely monitor both the mother and the child when administering these medications to make sure they aren’t adversely affecting the mother.”
Every 2 days, Dr. Patel had to decide whether to wait 2 more days. At 31 weeks, the situation didn’t seem to be improving, but Dr. Patel decided to wait a couple more days.
And then he decided to wait 2 more days after that.
“Jackson turned the corner during that time,” said Dr. Patel. “At exactly 32 weeks, his health was looking more promising. His lungs were filling with air and developing.”
The staff breathed a collective sigh of relief, and the Straits family felt hope for the first time in many weeks.
“The fact that at the perfect moment, literally the day before I had him, the fluid around his lungs cleared and he could actually breathe outside the womb is a miracle,” said Lisa. “There was a lot of prayer for us during that time and we are so grateful for that support.”
It was just in the nick of time.
Welcome, Baby Jackson
Lisa’s water broke the very next day. Jackson was born March 27, weighing 5 lbs., 13 oz.
But he still had some hurdles to clear, some of the most difficult right from the start. He had to be resuscitated at birth and his heart fluttered dangerously fast.
“His heart was racing out of control so we shocked his heart in the NICU to try to reset the rhythm of his heart,” said Dr. Clark. “Soon after we cardioverted him, his heart was racing again. Two days later as a last resort measure, we decided to administer another shock, to see if we could get him to stabilize. I wasn’t sure it would work.”
It was a difficult time for everyone, including the staff.
“I think when you spend a lot of time getting to know the family and you invest so much time to get them through it, it is hard to get to a point where you think you are going to lose him,” said Dr. Clark. “He had everything stacked against him. The likelihood of survival at that point is very slim.”
Much to everyone’s surprise, the shock did its job. Jackson is now able to maintain a normal heart rhythm with the help of 4 heart medications. He’s thriving and growing and is a big star wherever he goes with his family in their hometown of Millersburg.
And the prognosis is fantastic.
“Half the kids with tachycardia outgrow the condition and the other half can control it with either medications or an ablation procedure in the cath lab,” said Dr. Clark. “Either way, the outlook is bright for Jackson. He’ll be out there on the baseball diamond with the other kids. There are no restrictions for this kid growing up.”
The sky’s the limit now for Jackson. One thing is for sure: He’s not the kind of guy to let anything hold him back.