When doctors in her home state told Amira Carson there was nothing they could do to save her son’s life, she didn’t take no for an answer.
At just two weeks old, Imani was diagnosed with congenitally corrected transposition of the great arteries (CCTGA), a rare heart defect that affects less than 1% of babies. In CCTGA, the two lower ventricles and their attached valves are reversed.
The condition is fatal if left untreated.
Doing what any mother would do, she refused to give up and asked family and friends for advice. A long-time friend who works at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital suggested she come to Houston.
Now, 9-month-old Imani will get the chance to live a full life thanks to Jorge Salazar, MD, professor and chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery and the John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Distinguished Chair at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.
“I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” Carson said. “My son gets to live a normal life; he gets to live the life he deserves.”
In his first two weeks of life, Imani never showed signs of a failing heart – he seemed to be a happy and healthy baby. But after noticing abnormal breathing, Carson drove him to an emergency room in her home state where his heart rate was over 200 beats per minute. Doctors immediately admitted him to the intensive care unit where he was diagnosed with CCTGA, a hole in his heart, and Ebstein Anomaly, a heart defect that impacts the valves.
Doctors in her state didn’t think Imani was old enough to receive the life-saving surgery he needed.
“After reviewing Imani’s case, I knew he needed someone to advocate for him,” said Salazar. “I knew I could get him the care he needed and get him to where he had a good heart.”
Imani and his family made the trip to Houston in July 2020. Upon arriving, he had another battle to face – he and his family all tested positive for COVID-19. But after a couple of weeks in the hospital, his results came back negative and he was stable enough for surgery.
However, by the time Imani arrived in Houston, he was already dying of heart failure. His body was too weak for major surgery, so Salazar and his team decided to do a “double switch” operation that would be performed in two parts.
The first procedure was an arterial switch where they put the arteries back in their correct place, which helped restore blood circulation to the body. Additionally, Salazar put in a pulmonary artery band to help reduce excessive pulmonary blood flow that is seen in infants with congenital heart defects.
“After the first surgery, Imani was doing great. He was gaining weight, eating well, and just growing how any young boy his age should,” said Salazar.
In August, Salazar was able to send Imani home to recover until his second surgery. But before it could be scheduled, Carson noticed her son was turning blue. This is often a sign that he had outgrown his pulmonary artery band, and was ready for his second surgery.
“He was having difficulty breathing again and I rushed him to the emergency room, where they told me his oxygen level was 60%,” she said.
After Carson voiced her concerns about his low oxygen levels, Imani was life-flighted back to Houston earlier this month, and within a week of his arrival, Salazar performed the final surgery needed to save his life, an atrial switch procedure that helped restore blood flow through the ventricles.
“I am so thankful to Dr. Salazar for everything he has done for my son. I can’t thank him enough for giving my son his life back. He is normal. He will recover from this, and I pray he never has to have another surgery again,” Carson said.
“Without surgery, there is no survival rate for Imani’s condition,” Salazar said. “As you can imagine as a doctor, surgeon, and dad, I am very motivated to help out other parents, and help their children have a normal life. I know what I would want for my children, and I can’t think of a greater gift in life. My mission is to take these children who are dying of heart defects and find solutions for them to live. You should never allow circumstances to get in the way. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
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