When Abbie Yoder went to her local doctor to learn the results of her 20-week ultrasound, she discovered there was something wrong with her baby.
“The doctor told me that there was a mass on the right side of my baby’s heart,” explains Abbie. “She thought I should go to the University of Iowa to have it looked at.”
A follow-up fetal echocardiogram at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics led to a diagnosis of hypoplastic right heart syndrome, a congenital defect in which the heart’s right side is underdeveloped. This condition requires three surgeries to re-route blood to the lungs and ease the workload of the one pumping chamber.
“You can't even describe how you feel,” Abbie says. “Just to know you're going to have this innocent, helpless baby. That you're going to have to trust other people to save her life immediately.”
Seven days after Gabby was born, she underwent open heart surgery at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
“They put in a shunt in her heart that basically allowed the blood to get to her lungs,” her dad, Derek, recalls. “Knowing the quality of care that the children’s hospital is known for definitely helps make you feel a little bit better, knowing that she's in good hands when she goes out that door.”
Gabby went home just seven days after her first heart surgery.
“The second surgery, they take one of her major veins that comes back to the heart and hook it into one of the arteries that goes to her lungs,” explains Derek.
By the time of her third heart surgery, Gabby was 4.
“In true ‘Gabby fashion,’ she found light in the experience,” recalls Abbie. “We gowned up, Gabby and me, and we're walking down the hallway into the operating room, and she gets in there and everyone's obviously gowned up. And Gabby goes, ‘We're all doctors.’ To her, this is a place where we can all be together, and she doesn't have to be afraid.”
Gabby has faced other procedures, including corrective eye surgeries.
“The ophthalmology doctor always has one of her favorite songs cued up on his phone,” Derek says. “It's easier as a parent, because she gets excited to come. It helps offset any of the shots or any things that she may have to end up getting.”
She also was diagnosed with a condition called thrombocytopenia, a condition in which Gabby has a low platelet count.
“We see pediatric hematology here for that, because she doesn't clot appropriately,” Abbie says. “Recently, she popped out a tooth and it bled for 45 minutes. Gabby was pretending it was a “Thriller” music video. It was just a way to turn something not fun into something hysterical.”
Gabby sees pediatric experts at the Center for Disabilities and Development at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Abbie explains, “her muscles aren't as strong, and her balance is off quite a bit. Doctors are exploring the cause of these symptoms.”
“We couldn’t take care of Gabby without having so many different specialists on board,” explains Abbie. “Having those people who really know the details of all her specific conditions makes a world of difference.”
Gabby loves to run and sees her future as a police officer. She also enjoys being part of the Heart Friends support group through the hospital.
“It has connected us with other families who have kids with heart defects,” Abbie says. “It has given Gabby other friends she can see at pool parties who have scars down their chest.”
Congenital heart defects require lifetime care.
“Gabby’s future is something that’s hard to think about,” explains Abbie. “There is a possibility that Gabby may need a pacemaker because her heart rate has steadily lowered. There’s always the possibility that she’ll need a heart transplant someday.”
“I think what Gabby has taught me about all of that, though, is today, it doesn't matter,” Abbie says. “She today is the coolest kid with the biggest heart, who just is a perfect example of living life to the fullest.”