Doctors at an Ohio hospital successfully performed an in-utero heart surgery on a 24-week-old fetus

Halfway into her pregnancy, Heather and Anthony Catanese got the news that parents-to-be never want to hear: their son Lorenzo’s heart was not developing properly, and he had little chance of surviving.

“The doctor came in, they saw the problems with the blood flow, and they said, ‘We’re going to have to send you over to a cardiologist,’ ” Heather explains in this exclusive clip from Thursday’s episode of The Doctors.

Lorenzo was developing hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a disease that stops the left side of the heart from fully forming, and had a severe leakage in another valve.

“It’s one of the worst possible combination of problems — the blockage of one valve and the severe leakage of another,” Dr. James Strainic, the director of Fetal Heart Program at University Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, explains.

Heather, Anthony and Lorenzo Catanese, after his birth

Strainic, along with Dr. Aimee Armstrong of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, consulted and determined that Lorenzo’s best chance of surviving was an risky, in-utero heart surgery.

“[The syndrome] is extremely rare,” Armstrong says. “The largest report had only 21 patients in it and only two of those patients survived to be six months. So if we could intervene in fetal life, that may be Lorenzo’s only hope of surviving.”

But even then, the procedure has just a 20 percent rate of success. Doctors would put a small needle with a tiny balloon on the end of it through the mother’s abdomen, into the uterus, through the fetus’ chest wall, and into their heart, where doctors can inflate the balloon to open up the aortic valve and resume normal blood flow.

“All we really wanted at that point was to meet our child, and hold him, have a few hours, and try to make that special,” Heather says.

In total, the needle is in the uterus for just five minutes, and in the fetus’ heart for four, but it was a difficult wait for the parents.

“We’re just waiting with baited breath after the procedure; we were terrified,” Anthony says.

“All we could do was watch,” Heather adds.

Anthony and Heather Catanese holding Lorenzo, now 3 months old
| Credit: The Doctors

Thankfully, the procedure went smoothly, and Lorenzo is now 3 months old and thriving, with no lingering health concerns.

“We went from discussions about what things did we want to do with him in whatever short amount of time we may be able to spend with him to talking with the doctors about what sports he may or may not be able to play in high school.” Heather says.

Watch the Catanese’s full story on Thursday’s episode of The Doctors. Check your local listings for the time and channel.