Boy who needed in-utero heart surgery celebrates his first birthday 

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A baby boy who had multiple in-utero surgeries to save his life is now celebrating is first birthday.

In March 2018, when Sara Toner, 21, was six months pregnant, she learned that her son, Tyler, had a heart defect that made it difficult for blood to throw through his body properly.

Doctors told Toner, from Spokane, Washington, that if they didn’t immediately operate, her son’s survival rate was below 10 percent.

So Toner and her husband, Ryan Hendershot, 32, traveled to Boston, Massachusetts, for a rare surgery that involved inserting a tiny balloon in Tyler’s aortic valve to allow for proper blood flow.

After a few weeks, doctors determined that Tyler’s heart was starting to develop properly, and increased his chances of survival to 60 percent.  

Sara Toner, 21, from Spokane, Washington, was six months pregnant when she learned her son had hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Pictured: Tyler with his parents Ryan, left, and Sara

Sara Toner, 21, from Spokane, Washington, was six months pregnant when she learned her son had hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Pictured: Tyler with his parents Ryan, left, and Sara

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is a birth defect in which the left side of the heart does not from correctly while the baby is in the womb. Pictured: Tyler in the hospital

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is a birth defect in which the left side of the heart does not from correctly while the baby is in the womb. Pictured: Tyler in the hospital 

Toner’s pregnancy was difficult from the start. She suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness.

It can result in hospitalization due to dehydration from extreme nausea and vomiting.

Several celebrities have opened up about their experience with hyperemesis gravidarum including Kate Middleton, Kim Kardashian and Kelly Clarkson.  

‘In my first trimester, I lost 17 pounds because I couldn’t keep anything down,’ Toner said.

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During her 20-week ultrasound, Toner’s midwife told her she needed to see a pediatric cardiologist for ‘further testing’.

At the local children’s hospital, she had a fetal echocardiogram, and the cardiologist told her that her son had hypoplastic left heart syndrome and aortic valve stenosis.

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is a birth defect in which the left side of the heart does not from correctly while the baby is in the womb.

Because the left side of the heart is unable to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, the right side is responsible for pumping blood to both lungs and the rest of the body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 960 babies are born in the US every year with this defect.

Problems quickly arise soon after birth including difficulty breathing, a weak pulse, and a bluish skin color. 

Aortic valve stenosis occurs when the aortic valve – the valve that separate the the heart’s main pumping chamber and the main artery – narrows.

This limits or prevents blood flow from your heart through the aorta to the rest of the body. 

Doctors told Toner, from Spokane, Washington, that if they didn't immediately operate, Tyler's survival rate was below 10 percent. Pictured: Tyler

Doctors told Toner, from Spokane, Washington, that if they didn't immediately operate, Tyler's survival rate was below 10 percent. Pi

Doctors told Toner, from Spokane, Washington, that if they didn’t immediately operate, Tyler’s survival rate was below 10 percent. She and her husband raised funds to travel to Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts. Pictured, left and right: Tyler

‘I was crushed. All I ever dreamed of was being a mother to a beautiful and healthy baby,’ Toner said.

‘I felt like it was my fault, even though it was confirmed that it was a completely random case.’

The cardiologist wanted to send Toner to Boston Children’s Hospital for in-utero surgery. However, although her insurer approved the cost of surgery, the hospital didn’t accept the insurance she had.

Within one week, Toner and her husband raised funds with help of her friends and family to get there and back. 

At 23 weeks pregnant, Tyler had an in-utero aortic valvuloplasty.  

‘They stuck a tiny needle through my stomach, directly through his chest and into his aortic valve,’ Toner said. ‘They blew up a tiny balloon in his valve as a way to open it up to allow blood flow.’    

Toner was monitored weekly and it soon became evident that the left side of the baby’s heart was starting to develop. 

Without the in-utero surgery, Tyler’s survival rate was below 10 percent, but the surgery increased that to 60 per cent.

After a few weeks of monitoring, it was clear that the left side of Tyler's heart was starting to develop. Pictured: Toner's scar showing where doctors operated

After a few weeks of monitoring, it was clear that the left side of Tyler’s heart was starting to develop. Pictured: Toner’s scar showing where doctors operated

Tyler was born in May 2018 weighing seven pounds and, since then, has continued to flourish, despite the instability of his health at times. 

He had four more valvuloplasties in-utero, as well as a thoracotomy to repair his aortic arch, the part of the artery that bends. 

Toner admits that it was difficult to find out about her son’s heart condition as she wasn’t given the chance to cope, she was immediately planning surgeries.

‘It’s terrifying. I never had a chance to grieve or cope. I immediately had to start planning the rest of our lives as heart parents,’ Toner said.

‘I don’t think at this point, over a year later, I’ve fully stopped to grieve the missed life of a healthy baby. This is my life now, but I’m still equally as blessed.’

Toner said she didn’t feel comfortable publicly sharing her family’s story for a long time, but is grateful at having had the opportunity to meet others going through a similar situation.   

‘I want people to see that an unhealthy baby isn’t the end of the world,’ she said.

‘There are a lot more hoops to go through, but every second is worth it. You never ask to be a heart parent, but I’ve learned it gets bestowed upon the strongest.’ 



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