Stories of Hope and Recovery

Image of patient, Maya Miller

Maya Miller

Catheter Procedure Fixes Congenital Heart Condition

Maya’s mother, Deborah Miller, remembers what it was like to touch her daughter’s small chest. “You could not feel a heartbeat. All you could feel was this rush of blood,” she recalls.

Deborah and her husband, Mike, were in China adopting a daughter, one who matched the request they had made of the adoption agency for a special needs child, even one with a heart condition. “She was our Christmas present,” Deborah says.

The Millers had limited medical information on Maya’s heart condition. When they met pediatric interventional cardiologist Dr. Robert Vincent at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center, he offered hope. Based on the information, Dr. Vincent told them he thought Maya’s heart problem, PDA (or patent ductus arteriosus), could be fixed without surgery.

The ductus arteriosus is a special vessel in the heart that, before birth, supplies the baby with oxygen from the mother. In the weeks after birth, the vessel closes in on most children. If it remains open (patent), serious conditions can develop.

When the Millers arrived in China, Maya was already 33 months old but weighed just 20 pounds—about the size of a typical 18-month-old. Abandoned and placed in an orphanage at age 1½, Maya had never been treated for her heart condition.

Back home, the Millers quickly arranged for Maya to see Dr. Vincent. An echocardiogram, a tool to let doctors see the heart, confirmed that Maya had a large PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosus) and an enlarged heart - the size of an adult. “Without treatment, she was at high risk for heart failure,” says Deborah.

Three weeks later, Dr. Vincent performed a procedure to close Maya’s PDA. “She was away from us for just 45 minutes, and the only way we could tell she had had a procedure was the two needle prick holes on her thigh and a Band-aid over them,” recalls Deborah. “But for the first time, I could feel her heartbeat, not the rush of blood in her chest.

Dr. Vincent inserted two small, flexible tubes into a large artery and vein in her leg during the procedure. He then guided the tube, which doctors call a catheter, through the arteries to her heart. With the catheter in place, he delivered a device through the catheter to the heart to close the PDA.

“It was a lifesaving procedure that took a short amount of time,” recalls Deborah. After her treatment, Maya’s heart began to shrink, and about a year ago, an echocardiogram showed it to be about normal size. Meanwhile, Maya’s body grew. She gained over three inches and 10 pounds nine months after the procedure. “She went through clothes sizes so fast,” says Deborah.

Today, Maya is a 5½-year-old kindergartner in “perfect health,” says her mother. And, about a year ago, she became a big sister, too. The Millers adopted William, also from China and needing special care, to be Maya’s little brother.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, PDA affects about 3,000 infants yearly in the United States. It is the sixth most common heart defect. Fortunately, there are three options for closing the PDA.