Althea “Thea” Brown is all smiles. And her spunky personality along with her curiosity for the world around her will undoubtedly bring a grin to your face. But it’s hard to fathom that during her short 18 months of life, Thea has undergone more tests, surgeries and procedures than any child her age should have to endure.
Maggie and Chad Brown, of Lakeland, were expecting their second child, Thea, when their obstetrician noticed something unusual with Thea’s heart. Ultimately, their daughter was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a birth defect in which the left side of the heart does not form properly, which affects normal blood flow through the heart.
As Maggie’s delivery date approached, her high-risk obstetrician recommended that they change their plans and instead of delivering in Tampa, deliver at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville.
“We quickly had an appointment at UF Health to meet with Dr. (Jennifer) Co-Vu (fetal cardiologist) and with Connie (Nixon, clinical coordinator), and found out about the program,” Maggie said. “That same day we toured the hospital, and had the pleasure of meeting Dr. (Mark) Bleiweis (cardiothoracic surgeon). He assured us they would do everything to make sure that Althea was OK.”
On April 17, 2018, Althea was welcomed into the world at UF Health and admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Then, she was moved to the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit.
At 9 days old, Thea had her first open-heart surgery known as a Norwood procedure. Just before her 1-month birthday, Thea was released to go home and celebrate. While waiting for Thea’s second open-heart surgery, the family was sent home with an electronic home monitoring device to track weight, medicines, feedings, diaper changes and vitals that are sent immediately to Thea’s physicians.
“Interstage (time between the first and second surgery) is a very delicate time, so it is extremely helpful in monitoring to know if there are any red flags or if anything is wrong,” Maggie explained.
At UF Health, the interstage mortality rate for single ventricle heart patients, like Thea, has been maintained at 0%.
In September 2018, Thea and her family returned her second open-heart surgery.
“The staff, doctors and nurses did a great job of preparing us for the surgery and what to expect,” Maggie said. “Everyone truly cares and loves their patients. Staff is always willing to do whatever it takes and to put the patient first.”
Thea’s third and final open-heart surgery will take place once she’s 3 and a half.
“She will never be fixed or healed, but this allows her to have a chance to thrive and have a normal life,” Maggie said.
For children with Thea’s condition, sometimes a heart transplant is a necessity, but Maggie is hopeful that will not be the case.
“We came to UF Health to give Althea the best care she could receive,” Maggie said. “The staff and doctors are wonderful here, and we will continue to come back for her care for the rest of her life.”